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Robinson Fellow awarded £2.5M to develop future technologies

Robinson Fellow, Professor Rachel Oliver, has been awarded £2.5M by the Royal Academy of Engineering to develop her work on porous semiconductors. Funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Chair in Emerging Technologies scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long-term support. The award will enable Oliver, Professor of Materials Science and Director of the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride, to focus on strategic approaches for taking her technology from the bench to the boardroom.

Gallium nitride (GaN) is a rising star of the electronics and optoelectronics industries, with GaN-based solid-state lighting bringing about a revolution in how we illuminate our world. Creating porosity in GaN vastly extends the range of materials properties achievable in this key compound semiconductor material. By controlling the porosity, engineers can select the properties they need to create new device concepts or to improve existing products.

Professor Oliver's aim is to create a set of materials fabrication processes which control the structure and properties of porous gallium nitride. Alongside this, she will develop a modelling toolbox for designing new devices. By developing new devices and embedding porous GaN in the UK’s vibrant and expanding compound semiconductor industry, Oliver hopes to drive this emerging materials platform towards widespread industrial adoption, fuelling the future of the UK compound semiconductor ecosystem.

Potential applications for the new research are both wide-ranging and far-reaching. Developing the use of UV LEDs for disinfection would give healthcare professionals new weapons in the fight against viral epidemics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Work on microdisplays using microLEDs could improve augmented and virtual reality headsets. As well as providing immersive experiences for gamers, this technology could be used by organisations for more effective online collaboration. By reducing the need for business travel, the ecological benefits would be significant.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The Academy places huge importance on supporting excellence in engineering and often the key to engineers fulfilling their potential in tackling global challenges is the gift of time and continuity of support to bring the most disruptive and impactful ideas to fruition.”