Illinois Plasma Institute launches with $1.75 million investment from Japanese company

From Phillip Kisubika

Japanese microprocessing technology developer Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co., Ltd. (TOK) is entering a partnership with the Illinois Plasma Institute (IPI), a new venture being headed up by NPRE professor David Ruzic.

TOK’s investment of $1.75 million over five years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will provide for two graduate students.  In addition, full-time TOK scientists will work in IPI, which will be housed in laboratory space in the University’s Research Park on the south side of campus. NPRE professor David Ruzic.

“This starts a new era in translational research at the University,” Prof. Ruzic said. “The Illinois Plasma Institute will take technologies developed at the University and insert them into the company’s tools and products.  It will bridge the ‘Valley of Death,’ where so many clever innovations languish due to not being commercialized.”

TOK works with photolithography in producing photo resist chemical solutions that clean microchips after they have undergone plasma etching. Plasma etching processing techniques now use extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) to fabricate integrated circuits. As EUV techniques change and improve, photo resist solutions must change, as well.

“We have experience with EUV sources and light; (TOK) will work with us to develop better EUV photo resist,” Ruzic said.

IPI is intended to become a research and development arm of selected companies, bridging an important gap in technology development. The Institute will also create new ideas for products and, in conjunction with each company’s engineers, guide them through early and mid-stages of development. The employees from each partner company will also be educated in the new Masters of Engineering in Plasma Engineering program by NPRE faculty and work in a synergistic environment which may expand the companies’ opportunities into other fields.

The plan is to move some complete experimental facilities from the existing Center for Plasma-Material Interactions on campus to the Institute and to procure equipment donated from TOK to be installed in addition.

“The building for IPI will be going through renovations soon.  Power, water, HVAC, flooring, etc., all needs to be made compatible with our needs,” Ruzic continued.

Ruzic, joined by NPRE plasma group faculty Davide Curreli and Daniel Andruczyk, hosted several TOK executives in November to negotiate the partnership arrangement. NPRE alumnus Phi Nguyen, formerly a Vice President at Intel and currently a consultant, assisted in the meetings.

“We are hoping to add more partners soon,” Ruzic said. “We should attract a semiconductor equipment company and other related industries.  The key is to only have one from each sector.  We are planning on doing competitive research – research that will allow a company to profit from utilizing our inventions.”

IPI plans to exclusively work with one semiconductor equipment maker, one defense contractor, one chemical company, one automotive company, etc.

Ruzic said he hopes this marks a significant partnership between the University of Illinois and companies to create new plasma processing tools and other Plasma-Material interaction-related products, and that this venture will contribute significantly to the University.

“At this point, there has been no investment from the Department, College or University,” Ruzic said.  “As IPI grows, I hope that will change. Translational research has been a talking point of the current and past Deans.  We are creating a place where that will really happen.”

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