A unique international research collaboration is working to develop technologies to help deliver 10 fold increases in chip processor speed, faster internet connections and huge energy savings worldwide. The project, called Nanostrain, brings together public institutions from across Europe supported by global industry leaders, to provide highly accurate measurements of strain in materials at the nano-scale and drive innovation in next generation electronic devices.

A particular focus for the consortium is a class of materials (piezoelectrics) that change their shape in response to electric voltages. The project aims to advance commercial opportunities arising from controlled strain in nano-scale piezoelectrics including the development of the first Piezoelectric-Effect-Transistor (PET), a new digital switch with the potential to offer increased speed, reduced micro-chip size and lower power consumption. Piezoelectronic transistors could operate at one-tenth of the voltage of today’s CMOS equivalent, consuming 100 times less power as they do so.

Advances here would overcome a decade of stagnation in semiconductor transistor performance which has seen computational processing power fail to increase by more than a few percent since 2003. However progress in these areas is dependent on the development of new and more accurate measurements and best practise to better understand strain at the nano-scale and how it can be exploited.

To address this ‘final piece of the jigsaw’ the European Metrology Research Programme’s three year Nanostrain project brings together several European national laboratories along with a consortium of collaborators including world class research instrument facilities at the ESRF and nine commercial companies spanning a wide range of applications.

The project will develop new tools for the characterisation of nano-strain under industrially relevant conditions of high stress, and electric fields. The results will be made openly available to drive innovation in other technological sectors including ultra-high speed and resolution printing, chemical and optical sensors, electromagnetic telecommunications, automotive, power, oil & gas and medicine

Full list of Nanostrain collaborators:

•         National Physical Laboratory (NPL), UK
•         Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Germany
•         Czech Metrology Institute (CMI), Czech Republic
•         BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, Germany
•         XMaS- the EPSRC funded Mid-Range Facility for Materials Science at the ESRF, France
•         European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), France
•         Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), France
•         IBM
•         Neaspec
•         Global Foundries
•         Piezo Institute, Belgium
•         Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM), Italy
•         Polytec

This work is funded through the European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) Project IND54 Nanostrain. The EMRP is jointly funded by the EMRP participating countries within EURAMET and the European Union.