Diamond-copper composite spells success for Cambridge startup

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 28, 2004 – Present a cheap diamond substitute to a woman, and you’re liable to get slapped. Present it to the biggest names in the microchip industry, however, and customers will line up at your door.

That is the envious reality for Advanced Diamond Solutions Inc., a three-person startup launched out of MIT last year. Selling a diamond-copper composite material to act as a heat sink for microchips, the company already boasts top-flight customers: Apple Computer, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell, to name a few.

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In fact, the team has been so busy jetting off to London, Taiwan and Silicon Valley that it had just two days to dash off a business plan so it could enter MIT’s $50K Entrepreneurship Contest earlier this spring.

It lost. Nobody seemed to mind.

“We’ve worked very hard to build a validated company,” said Barnas Monteith, one of Advanced Diamond’s co-founders. He and his colleagues have been perfectly content to nurse their wounds by pulling in revenue.

Without question, heat transfer is a core problem for modern chip design. As the size of transistor gates falls to 90 nanometers and below, heat generated by so many transistors squeezed onto a wafer of silicon has reached a crisis point. Chipmakers want an improved way to conduct heat away from the chip before it literally melts the chip away.

The ideal material is the diamond. Unfortunately, the only known way to make thin films out of diamond is by chemical-vapor deposition, which is not cheap or practical. (A diamond heat-spreader for a microchip can cost $10,000.) Another difficulty: Diamond films are notoriously finicky about binding to a chip substrate; and although copper binds easily, the limits of copper’s thermal conductivity have already been reached.

“It’s a big issue as we miniaturize more and more,” said Thomas Abraham, vice president of research at Business Communications Corp.

Enter Advanced Diamond with its composite, DiaCu. Forged by pounding copper into diamond dust at extremely high pressure, the material has triple the heat conductivity of copper, yet maintains the strong bonding affinity of copper. DiaCu is not quite as good as pure diamond, but it easily trumps copper.

Advanced Diamond’s technology is the brainchild of James Sung, who pioneered diamond films as a scientist at General Electric Co.’s Super-abrasives Lab (also father of Advanced Diamond’s second co-founder, Michael Sung).

As co-founder Monteith explains it, scientists have chased the idea of diamond composites for years, but nobody could figure out a practical way to bond various metals with diamond molecules.

Sung, however, perfected a method to “wet the diamond” by subjecting it to pressure roughly equal to the center of the Moon. At a certain point in that process, Monteith explained, Advanced Diamond adds several other elements to provoke a chemical bond between the diamond and copper. Not surprisingly, Monteith will not identify exactly when this happens or what those elements are.

While Monteith cannot name all of Advanced Diamond’s customers yet, he does say four of the nation’s five largest defense contractors have ordered samples.

Chip companies like Intel or Advanced Micro Devices are also likely targets for the business, although their longer product-developing cycles make that a little less likely. “Everybody’s at the stage of repeat orders with their samples,” Monteith said, and he expects to announce volume purchases from a customer within weeks.

BCC estimates the market for thermal-management technology at $3.2 billion. Abraham does not know Advanced Diamond’s particular approach, but welcomes the concept. “If they could do it, that would be excellent,” he says.

 “The key aspect is that low cost and mating it to other components,” says Peter Wong, a materials scientist at Tufts University who has seen Advanced Diamond’s technology. “Diamond is very difficult to work with… It’s actually better to stay away from pure diamond, actually.”

Still, rival technologies lurk. Purdue University researchers are exploring how electrodes with carbon nanotubes might work as heat conductors; Sandia National Labs has developed “micro-pipes” inserted into a substrate to guide heat away from a chip.


Advanced Diamond Solutions Inc.


12 Inman Street, Suite 15 Cambridge, MA 02139


The company originated as an MIT-based startup in 2003. Its core technology is based on the work of co-founder Dr. James Sung.

Industries potentially served

Semiconductors Services: Engineering

Small tech-related products and services

Advanced Diamond Solutions addresses a key issue in chip design. As transistors become smaller and more exist on a single chip, chipmakers must develop better ways of conducting heat away from the chip to protect its components.

Advanced Diamond Solutions has used proprietary methodologies to create the HeaThru  product line featuring DiaCu, a diamond-copper composite that functions as a heat sink. This has a clear cost benefit over pure diamond films (diamond, though it conducts heat extremely well, is expensive and challenging to bind), and a performance benefit over copper alone (copper binds easily but has lower thermal conductivity limitations).

Besides selling its HeaThru products, the company also offers engineering, testing and fabrication services.


 · Michael Sung: co-founder

 · James Sung: co-founder

 · Barnas Monteith: co-founder; marketing and sales

Selected customers and strategic partners

 · Apple Computer

 · Northrop Grumman

 · Honeywell

Selected competitors

Potential competitors offering different techniques to cool chip components include:

 · Cool Chips

 · Cooligy

 · NanoCoolers 

 · Thornn Micro Technologies 

Barriers to market

Ultimately, the company must convince purchasers that the cost vs. performance tradeoff is a worthwhile one. Diamond alone is the best at conducting heat, but is difficult and very expensive to work with. As more manufacturers approach the sub-90nm barrier and are forced to address heat protection questions, different methodologies are sure to emerge, competing with Advanced Diamond’s technique.

Contact (US office)


Phone: (617) 291-3497

Email: [email protected]

Research by Gretchen McNeely


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