Dr Godfrey Ainsworth (BSc 1977, PhD 1980) is Executive Chairman of IQE, a Cardiff-based manufacturer of compound semiconductor technologies.
Since the silicon chip was invented in 1961, developments in semiconductor technology have changed everything from the way we drive to the way we shop. They have powered the wonders of the computer age, and are the single biggest contributor to worldwide economic growth.
Professor Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, famously observed in 1965 what is now known as ‘Moore’s Law’: that computing capability doubles every 18 months. This progress has largely been driven by miniaturisation, allowing more and more components to be embedded on a single chip. Nevertheless, while silicon remains the workhorse of most microprocessors, it is becoming increasingly difficult and extremely costly to maintain this rate of progress. Indeed, Moore himself has warned we’ve reached saturation point. Simply put, we just can’t make things any smaller.
Traditional silicon semiconductors now can’t keep up with consumer demand for smarter, improved products. To power them, we require chips with enhanced performance, lower energy consumption, and faster capabilities. This is why compound semiconductors are so important. With switching speeds that are several orders of magnitude faster than using silicon alone, materials such as gallium arsenide, indium phosphide and gallium nitride are invaluable where high speed, efficient performance is critical.
The photonic properties of these materials – their ability to emit and detect light – also lend themselves to a wide range of sensing applications that are gaining importance in our increasingly connected and autonomous world. From devices with facial recognition to connected autonomous vehicles, from advanced healthcare technologies to sustainable energy devices like solid-state lighting and highly efficient solar power generation, compound semiconductors already play a central role in our daily lives.
Cardiff University has long recognised the potential in compound semiconductors. At IQE, we value innovative academic research and formed a joint venture with Cardiff to create the Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) in 2015.
Combining research, innovation and manufacturing experience, together we are able to produce new technologies that can be used immediately by developers, businesses and the wider community. Our joint partnership also provides the training to support the growing demand for engineers who understand compound semiconductors and their huge potential.
With IQE being proudly headquartered in the Welsh capital, we’re in close proximity to the CSC, Cardiff University and Cardiff’s Institute for Compound Semiconductors – and the result is that South Wales is now globally recognised as a centre for excellence in the field.
That’s driving productivity in the local economy and providing the basis for an incredibly innovative ecosystem. Our cluster is rapidly attracting interest from the world’s most talented researchers, engineers, and developers – and with the shared expertise and facilities at our disposal, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
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