Singhal 'elated' to earn Innovation Award for solving semiconductor chip packaging problems

10/9/2023 By Em Jankauski

Our graduate students are difference-makers. Gaurav Singhal is sheer proof. The MatSE graduate is the recipient of the Innovation Award for his efforts in solving semiconductor chip packaging problems.

Written by By Em Jankauski

URBANA, Ill. — Our graduate students are difference-makers. Guarav Singhal is sheer proof. The MatSE graduate is the recipient of the Durgam and Subha Chakrapani Family Trust Award for his efforts in solving semiconductor chip packaging problems.

This award is made possible by the generosity of MatSE ’75 doctorate alumnus Dr. Durgam Chakrapani and Mrs. Subha Chakrapani. Each year, the fund provides support for one award to a MatSE graduate student for an outstanding Ph.D. thesis characterized by innovation and potential for commercialization in the field of materials science and engineering.

Guarav Singhal
Gaurav Singhal

“The donors hope to fund the next generation of innovators coming out of UIUC to translate research into technology,” said Chris Evans, MatSE associate professor and chair of the department’s Graduate Awards Committee.

Each year, millions of consumers aim to trade their smartphones for the latest and greatest model. Each upgrade includes longer-lasting batteries due to improvements in heat management of the energy generated in the device.

This same thing happens for the semiconductor chip packaging, too. And that’s where Singhal’s making the difference, collaborating on two projects with industry leaders like Dow and Toyota to create a scalable process.

For devices to handle heat, generally, the device must be soldered to a copper block. It must also have an electrical insulator with a manifold design on the other side to flow coolant.

“So your heat goes from device to copper, copper to insulator and from insulator to a coolant. This entire thing is being soldered together with the copper block is soldered to the silicon device, and the insulator is again soldered to the copper, and then the aluminum block is again soldered to the insulator,” Singhal said.

“You can see how many steps there are,” Singhal joked.

Singhal’s scalable process brings this one-centimeter dimension of the entire packaging down to a 100th of a micron because he’s able to eliminate all these joints.

“One of the benefits of using what we are doing is we can grow this entire packaging directly on the device,” Singhal said. “We can grow a 3D, porous copper film on the backside of this device, and we can flow coolant directly through this. Now, this 3D copper film that we can fabricate using interference lithography can increase the effective surface area by hundreds of times.”

That tenacious spirit is bubbling Singhal’s efforts up to the top.

“Gaurav has been actively leading two projects funded by industry and has five patents associated with his work. The ability to perform both fundamental materials science and translate that work into technologically relevant findings really made him stand out,” Evans said.

When Singhal received confirmation that he won the award, it left him speechless.

“I was just surprised. I was elated. I can’t express that feeling because when you work on a project for four or five years, and then you get recognition, that happiness isn’t something you can’t express in words,” Singhal said.

That’s a feeling that will resonate with Singhal through the remainder of his grad school journey and well into his career.

“You start losing motivation when things aren’t working in the project,” Singhal said. “I’d gone through that phase. Then, all of a sudden, things click. And when you get recognized, it only pushes you further. This achievement would not have been possible without the support that I have received from my advisor, Prof. Paul Braun, and from my collaborators at the Toyota Research Institute of North America, Michigan. This will only push me to aim higher now and to try something even bigger. ”

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This story was published October 9, 2023.