HRL Paper on Gallium Nitride Integrated Circuits Wins IEEE George E. Smith Award

(Left to right) Daniel Zehnder, Ray Li, Rongming Chu, Yu Cao, Mary Chen. © 2017 HRL Laboratories.

Breakthrough Demonstrates Gallium Nitride May Replace Silicon for Power Conversion

HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have been awarded the 2016  George E. Smith award by the IEEE for their paper An Experimental Demonstration of GaN CMOS Technology.

Rongming Chu, Yu Cao, Mary Chen, Ray Li, and Daniel Zehnder achieved the first demonstration of gallium nitride (GaN) complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) field-effect-transistor (FET) technology, which established that GaN’s superior transistor performance can be harnessed in an integrated circuit. This breakthrough means that GaN could become the technology of choice for power conversion circuits currently made in silicon. The HRL research team’s demonstration was published January 6, 2016, in IEEE Electron Device Letters.

The George E. Smith Award was established in 2002 to recognize the best paper that appeared in a fast turnaround archival publication of the IEEE Electron Devices Society, targeted to Electron Device Letters. The annual award includes a certificate and a check for $2,500, presented at the EDS Board of Governors Meeting in conjunction with the International Electron Devices Meeting.

GaN transistors long excelled in microwave/millimeter-wave applications, but their potential for power conversion was largely unrealized. “The fast-switching capability of GaN transistors can enable power electronics with high efficiency, small form factor, and low cost. However, currently the fast-switching GaN power transistor has to be intentionally slowed down in power circuits, because chip-to-chip parasitic inductance coupled with high switching speed can causes voltage instabilities,” Chu said.

The team—from HRL’s Microelectronics Laboratory—overcame that limitation by developing a GaN CMOS technology that integrated enhancement-mode GaN NMOS and PMOS on the same wafer. “Integration of power switches and their driving circuitry on the same chip is the ultimate approach to minimizing the parasitic inductance,” Chu said.

GaN transistors currently are being designed into radar systems, cellular base stations, and power converters such as those in notebook computer power adaptors. Chu went on to say that in the near term, GaN CMOS integrated circuit applications could include power integrated circuits that manage electricity more efficiently while having a significantly smaller form factor and lower cost, and integrated circuits that can operate in harsh environments.

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HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California ( is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.

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