31057 Genstar Road
Hayward, CA 94544-7831
Project Title: Alpha Detector for Electronic Materials Characterization
NIST Award(s): 50-DKNB-0-90099
Technology Developed: The new technology is an alpha particle counter with active background suppression that allows the alpha particle emissivity of electronic materials such as lead to be characterized at levels of 0.0001 alpha/cm^2/hour or less, which is more than an order of magnitude better than could previously be achieved.
Key Words: alpha particle, nuclear counter, ionization chamber, Lead, alpha emissivity, pulse shape discr, digital signal process
Uses of Technology/Products/Service: Background: Alpha particles emitted from electronic materials interfere with the correct operation of modern digital electronics such as processor or memory chips and therefore need to be carefully controlled. Unfortunately, at the low levels the industry wants to measure, everything is radioactive, including the materials in alpha particle counters, which causes background (i.e. empty counter) counting rates to dominate sample counting rates. Thus very long counting rates are required to obtain statistically significant data. Our Technology: in our new approach, have designed a counter that produces different signal shapes, depending upon whether an alpha particle is emitted from the sample or from other parts of the counter. Then, by digitizing the counter's output signals and analyzing them in a computer, we can reject all counts that do not come from the sample, eliminating background counts. The result is that we can rapidly measure samples whose alpha particle emissivities are between 10 and 100 times lower than was previously possible and easily meet electronic industry roadmap goals for this measurement.
Benefit to Company: The NIST SBIR program grant allowed us to produce a first working prototype of the counter and demonstrate that the technology worked as theoretically predicted. These results allowed us to obtain two additionals (DOE) Phase I SBIR grants to further develop the technology. At this point commercialization is not yet complete. We are currently refining a commericial prototype and, using our NIST results, have developed a list of beta test-site customers with whom we will refine the counter's operation and analyses to meet the industry's precise requirements. Beta site instruments are expected to be fielded late in the 1st quarter of 2007. These instruments are expected to sell for about $30,000 each. Based on sales of previous instruments we expect to replace about 200 obsolete instruments within 5 years ($6 million) and maintain steady state sales of 20/year ($600K/year) thereafter.
Impact on Company Growth: Tactical
How Product Was Commercialized: As noted above, commercialization is ongoing. Funds for this effort have come both from additional SBIRs related to methods for extending the technology and from in-house instrument development funds. Our experience with the prototype, including attempts by NIST personnel to operate on, showed that a nearly complete redesign, base on ease of operation, would be required before the counter could be commercially successful. Developing and testing this redesign has occupied us at the 2 manyear/year level for the past two years.
Past R&D and/or Sales from this Project: $0
Estimated Future Annual R&D and/or Sales from this Project: $3.0M