Harvard, SiOnyx to commercialize “black silicon”

October 14, 2008: Harvard U.’s Office of Technology Development(OTD) and SiOnyx Inc. announced that SiOnyx has exclusively licensed Harvard’s portfolio of black silicon patents.

Black silicon, a novel laser implant technique that radically alters the photonic properties of semiconductor devices, was discovered by Harvard’s Eric Mazur, Balkanski professor of physics and applied physics, who holds a joint appointment in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

A highly light-absorbent material, black silicon absorbs nearly twice the visible light of regular silicon and detects infrared light that is normally invisible to silicon based devices, a capability that allows for dramatic performance enhancements in applications ranging from simple light detection to advanced digital imaging and solar energy.

Irradiating a silicon wafer with laser pulses in the presence of certain gases (above) causes clusters of spikes to form (below). The resulting material, called black silicon and developed in Eric Mazur’s physics lab, captures almost all light that strikes it. (Credit: Courtesy of Eric Mazur)

In consideration for licensing the patents, Harvard has received an equity position in SiOnyx and will receive downstream royalties. SiOnyx also recently raised $11 million in funding from Harris & Harris, Polaris Venture Partners, and RedShift Ventures.

SiOnyx is producing devices that represent a low-cost, highly scalable platform for hyper-spectral imaging. The SiOnyx implant is compatible with established semiconductor manufacturing processes and introduces no new material. The company’s patented process employs femtosecond laser processing of the target material resulting in an extremely thin (300nm) photoconduction layer applicable to both biased (detection) and photovoltaic (power generation) applications.

“Black silicon addresses the fundamental pain point in all photonics systems, the sensitivity to light,” said Stephen Saylor, president and CEO of SiOnyx, in a statement. “By demonstrating that the black silicon process cost effectively scales within the established semiconductor device manufacturing infrastructure, SiOnyx is poised to transform the $10B+ light detection, imaging and photovoltaic markets by offering device manufactures a path to smaller, lighter and more efficient photonic systems.”

“Black silicon is a truly groundbreaking technology, and one that we are thrilled to have emanate from our lab at Harvard,” said Mazur. “With guidance and support from Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, we’ve been able to successfully put it on a path to commercialization — one that I am confident will lead to significant opportunity for the technology and SiOnyx.”


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