Cutting Silicon With a Proton Accelerator Instead of a Saw
By Alexis C. Madrigal
Those proton accelerators aren't just good for particle physics anymore.
All of the computer technology everywhere is built on chips. These chips are made of silicon that has been manufactured into the purest material on earth. And then that silicon is cut into wafers with a saw. A really nice saw, but a saw.
The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal in conversation with industry entrepreneurs shaping our future.
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If that seems like an odd way of creating the basic component of the most advanced technology on Earth, Twin Creeks Technologies Siva Sivaram would agree with you. His company has created a machine -- a proton accelerator, like the ones used in particle physics -- that sends protons plowing into a sheet of silicon. They embed themselves in a layer at a depth that varies with the energy you flow through the machine. When the material is heated, an slice of silicon detaches starting at the layer of protons that were delivered.
Sivaram's pitch is that they've managed to get these machines tuned just right so that they can create ultrathin silicon wafers that deliver the same or better performance as their fatter competitors. And that's very significant for solar cells because materials costs are a very large slice of their overall cost.