Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Hardware Technology

Black Silicon Used For Surveillance? 56

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that-sounds-naughty dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For the past decade, 'black silicon' has been touted as a way to make super-sensitive image sensors and ultra-efficient solar cells. That's because the material — silicon wafers treated with sulfur gases and femtosecond laser pulses — is much better at absorbing photons and releasing electrons than conventional silicon, at least over certain wavelengths. In 2008, Harvard spinoff SiOnyx went public with its plans to commercialize black silicon. But what happened to those plans? Today SiOnyx revealed in another exclusive that it has raised new venture financing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and other big investors. It also has formed a key strategic partnership to scale up manufacturing of black silicon — and go after markets in security, surveillance, automotive, consumer devices, and medical imaging."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Black Silicon Used For Surveillance?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:05AM (#33961226)

    I think black silicon is less productive, despite all the effort we've put into giving it a chance based on historical misuse and underuse. Basically, it doesn't have the right bond valency to adequately function in our society, so we really ought to let the markets sort of segregate so that people who prefer white silicon can go there without having to worry about intermixing.

  • Not having RTFA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But having some years as lab physicist, could someone add if the S is SF6, and at what lambda? At what W over what area?

    • Re:Not having RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:08AM (#33962064)
      The S is typically either SF6 or H2S gas. The wavelength of the femtosecond laser isn't especially important; the key is that the laser fluence (energy per area) be above the ablation threshold of the silicon (between 0.1 and 1 J/cm^2 for the relevant pulse durations). The laser spot size is typically a fraction of a millimeter on a side, but it can be rastered over a silicon wafer to make a large-area black silicon film. There is a recent Ph.D thesis available for free at: mazur-www.harvard.edu/publications.php?function=display&rowid=648 that gives a complete recipe for making black silicon.
  • Why is black silicon being used in security and surveillance significant? Title should read more like "Paul Allen and others invest in Black Silicon."
    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:34AM (#33961574)

      Why is black silicon being used in security and surveillance significant? Title should read more like "Paul Allen and others invest in Black Silicon."

      A photodiode is a really tiny solar cell. Or a CCD is vaguely like an array of really tiny solar cells with a bunch of glue logic (actually way different but at a simplistic enough level thats a useful mental model of a CCD even if its implementation is different ..)

      Anyway the short version is high efficiency works, but apparently failed economically for bulk energy production. Ooops. Time for a new business plan. The purpose of yer low light camera sensor isn't to charge a battery, so its possibly useful regardless of manufacturing dollars per watt delivered.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blind biker (1066130)

        Anyway the short version is high efficiency works, but apparently failed economically for bulk energy production. Ooops. Time for a new business plan. The purpose of yer low light camera sensor isn't to charge a battery, so its possibly useful regardless of manufacturing dollars per watt delivered.

        Using femtosecond lasers for treating silicon surfaces was never going to be price-competitive for solar panel production. DRIE black silicon [iop.org] on the other hand, could be made competitive, if/when production scale DRIE equipment appears, specifically modified (and simplified) for black silicon forming. The strong plasma that is required, however, limits scalability. Still, not entirely impossible.

  • Nightvision? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fibe-Piper (1879824) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:31AM (#33961536) Journal
    The article states the this allows people to see where they have previously been blind. Obviously the speaker means that people cannot see in the dark and this gives them this ability. I wonder how this compares to standard night vision technology which sounds like it does the same or similar thing.
    • Re:Nightvision? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:52AM (#33961826)

      Standard night vision uses near-infrared light to 'see'. It requires an infrared emitter to actually 'see' things. Normal human eyes cannot see this light. Military/industrial grade night vision uses sensors that picks infrared light generated from heat. This is the stuff you usually see in movies. (See FLIR entry in wikipedia)

      This dark silicone picks up visible light, although it will be far more sensitive than current sensors. As long as it's not pitch black, a tiny amount of light that normal eyes cannot see will be sensed by it.

      • by careysub (976506)

        Standard night vision uses near-infrared light to 'see'. It requires an infrared emitter to actually 'see' things. Normal human eyes cannot see this light. Military/industrial grade night vision uses sensors that picks infrared light generated from heat. This is the stuff you usually see in movies. (See FLIR entry in wikipedia)

        This dark silicone picks up visible light, although it will be far more sensitive than current sensors. As long as it's not pitch black, a tiny amount of light that normal eyes cannot see will be sensed by it.

        There are two types of night vision equipment - the cheaper near IR cameras mentioned above, and image intensifier tubes which enormously magnify visible light. The word "tubes" should alert you that IRTs are a vacuum tube technology, using vacuum ion cascades to magnify the image current. Perhaps "black silicon" will enable a solid state device to approach the performance of an IRT.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ChrisMaple (607946)
        Normal silicon (not silicone) is already quite sensitive, coming close to the ideal of responding to each photon. It is simply not possible to be "far more sensitive than current sensors".
  • I am very sure the X10 camera people (and their customers) are going to be more interested in this than the military. I wonder if the stupid pop-ups and pop-unders by them were the final straw that pushed users to start seeking for alternatives to IE and FireFox (or FireBird or Phoenix or whatever it was called back then) was at the right place at the right time.
  • by bmacs27 (1314285) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:41AM (#33961684)
    I mean, "black" silicone doing surveillance? The conspiracy nuts will have a blast with it!
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I mean, "black" silicone doing surveillance? The conspiracy nuts will have a blast with it!

      Why would we care about the color? Guy's like us don't get near fake boobs.

  • Any questions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:55AM (#33961878)
    I'm getting my Ph.D researching black silicon. If you have science or engineering questions about it, post them in reply to this comment. I'll check back at around 3 PM EST and will do my best to answer the questions I find then.
    • by durrr (1316311)
      How much better is it really? Is it omg!-worthy or just "might see a difference".
      • Re:Any questions? (Score:4, Informative)

        by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @02:51PM (#33965314)
        The improvement realized by black silicon depends both on the kind of detector in which it is used and the wavelength it's trying to detect. An application for black silicon that the research community takes very seriously at the moment is detection of light at a wavelength of 1064 nm. This is the main emission line of Nd:YAG lasers, which are already used in a variety of applications (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nd-YAG_laser#Military_and_defense [wikipedia.org]). At that wavelength, black silicon detectors are at least twice as good as traditional silicon devices and can be made 100-1000x thinner.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vbraga (228124)

      The summary defines black silicon as:

      silicon wafers treated with sulfur gases and femtosecond laser pulses

      Is this a thin film deposition (pulsed laser?)? Can you give a more accurate description? Maybe pointers to interesting papers?

      Thank you!

      • Re:Any questions? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @02:58PM (#33965418)
        Black Silicon is not made in a deposition process. Instead, ordinary silicon is shot with a femtosecond pulsed laser in the presence of a sulfur-containing gas. The laser causes sulfur to be incorporated while also structuring the surface of the silicon. Thus it changes both the chemical state and physical morphology of the material. I encourage you to check out the following freely available Ph.D thesis for more information: mazur-www.harvard.edu/publications.php?function=display&rowid=648.
        • by vbraga (228124)

          I'll check it out. Thank you.

        • "...Instead, ordinary silicon is shot with a femtosecond pulsed laser in the presence of a sulfur-containing gas..."

          Why sulfur, specifically?

          And that leads to another question. Has this same process been used with other combination of base materials and gasses? Is there something unique about silicon that makes the PROCESS possible?

    • I'm getting my Ph.D researching black silicon.

      How nice - me too! But we tend to call it "silicon nanograss" - it's more sexy, because it has "nano" in the name. Ours is the DRIE kind of black silicon. What's yours?

      • Re:Any questions? (Score:4, Informative)

        by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @03:02PM (#33965478)
        I work on silicon-chalcogen alloys like the material SiOnyx uses but also including Si:Se and Si:Te. I encourage you to attend next year's black silicon symposium (http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/08/26/26478-bent-laboratories-line-of-sight-goes-beyond-cannon/). The article is a year old, but the most recent symposium did include discussions of several types of black silicon beyond what is used by SiOnyx.
        • So... you work with laser-formed BS? You didn't really answer my question, so I am guessing only.

          The BS symposium looks fun, but unless I can send in an abstract, I won't get funding for a trip to the US. And actually, getting the visa last time was such a major PITA, that I am not really looking forward to it, now that I think of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DrWho520 (655973)
      - Other posters have noted/claimed this is a result of high manufacturing costs making this material prohibitive for solar cell production. Could the manufacturing costs of this material be brought down to a point as to make it a good substance for solar cells? How close are we?
      - What wavelengths does this material respond too/detect? Could it be modified/designed to image UV/Vis/IR?
      - How linear is the response function, or perhaps would it require an exotic calibration procedure to translate photons i
      • Re:Any questions? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sevenofdiamonds (1925484) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @03:12PM (#33965654)
        Because thin layers of black silicon can absorb as much light as thick layers of ordinary silicon, it is possible that black silicon solar cells would be cheaper than ordinary silicon solar cells. The reason that the most progress has been made on detectors rather than solar cells is that it is easier to make a profit selling detectors at smaller scale. It is not so much the cost floor that has thus far prevented the appearance of black silicon solar cells, but rather just that it is currently not made at a scale that would lead to affordable solar cells. As technologies are developed for making larger quantities of black silicon, I would not be surprised if it or a related material started finding its way into solar cells. An example response spectrum can be found here: http://www.sionyx.com/advantage.html [sionyx.com]. Note that this plot shows internal gain, which some variants of the material possess at >2V reverse bias. The response function when running at small 1V reverse bias is comparable to that of ordinary silicon, but extended deeper into the IR (out to 1300 nm instead of silicon's 1100 nm).
    • by bughunter (10093)

      As an electronics engineer in the remote sensing and scientific imaging field, I'd be interested in seeing some total QE vs wavelength curves for this material, even one that's specific to a particular device. So far my colleagues generally write this off as vaporware and marketing claims. ("Black Silicon is BS," to quote one of my former bosses.)

"No job too big; no fee too big!" -- Dr. Peter Venkman, "Ghost-busters"

Working...