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Research on Lead-Free Nanosoldering Gets NSF Funding

Technology Will Play Key Role in Microelectronics, Semiconductor Industry

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Assoc. Prof. Zhiyong Gu

By Edwin L. Aguirre

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from UMass Lowell and the State University of New York, Binghamton, has been awarded a three-year grant worth nearly $460,000 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to synthesize lead-free nanosolder materials and develop innovative nanosoldering techniques for joining electronic components measuring only billionths of a meter in size.

“This technology will play a critical role in the emerging fields of nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing, especially for assembling and integrating nanowires or carbon nanotubes for use in nanoelectronics and nanosensors,” says chemical engineering Assoc. Prof. Zhiyong Gu, who is UMass Lowell’s principal investigator (PI) for the NSF project.

“It will also be useful in various areas, including medical devices, nanoelectromechanical systems and the aerospace and defense industries,” says Gu.

Other members of the UMass Lowell team include mechanical engineering Prof. Sammy Shina, who is the co-PI, and chemical engineering doctoral candidate Fan Gao. UMass Lowell’s share of the funding is more than $267,000; the rest of the money goes to SUNY.

A Safer Alternative to Lead

The researchers aim to fabricate nanosolders based on tin and indium instead of the traditional lead-based solders currently used in microelectronics manufacturing.

“Our goal is to develop innovative techniques that do not use lead, which is toxic to humans and the environment, as well as minimize energy consumption during production, thereby helping create a competitive advantage for Massachusetts electronics companies,” says Gu.

The team will analyze the electrical, mechanical and thermal properties of the nanosolders as well as their performance, effectiveness and reliability.

“We will study the melting points of the nanosolders, their nanoscale reflow and wetting, inter-metallic formation and phase transformation,” says Gu. “Potential issues, including surface oxidation, will also be investigated and addressed through collaboration with local electronics companies in New England.”

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell provided Gu with seed grants for the research in 2007 and 2010, totaling $41,000. He was also awarded a $36,000 grant by the NSF Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing for related work in 2007.