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Umicore Research Chair in Semiconductor Nanomembranes and Flexible Optoelectronics

Shifting to flexible electronics that take the shape of objects

Sherbrooke, le 21 novembre 2023 – New mechanically flexible devices may soon be on the horizon thanks to the optimized development of flexible electronics. From rollable screens to medical devices that seamlessly conform to biological shapes, photovoltaic cells mirroring the curvature of aircraft wings or satellites, to watches that comfortably adapt to your skin. With the diverse applications of semiconductors, the advent of flexible versions promises to lead us into uncharted technological territory.

The Université de Sherbrooke is launching the new Umicore Research Chair in Semiconductor Nanomembranes and Flexible Optoelectronics co-directed by Abderraouf Boucherif and Richard Arès, two researchers from the Faculty of Engineering and members of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Technological Innovation (3IT). With seed funding of $1.5 million over five years, the research associated with this chair will aim no less than to revolutionize optoelectronics and quantum applications by creating flexible, cost-effective devices without compromising performance. The current challenge is that devices are manufactured on substrates that are incompatible with evolving requirements, particularly due to their thickness, rigidity and mechanical fragility. The solution for this dilemma may well originate from our cutting-edge laboratories in Sherbrooke. Overall, the chair anticipates facilitating more than $8 million in associated research. By enhancing the PEELER technology developed at UdeS, the goal is to achieve an exemplary and optimal technology transfer that will revolutionize many quantum and optoelectronic applications.

“The PEELER method lets us reuse the substrate of a rare material dozens of times instead of just once,” said Co-Chair Abderraouf Boucherif. “For example, if a thin film is deposited on a substrate of germanium (Ge), the Ge will literally confer its special characteristics—i.e. crystalline properties—to the thin film. This nanomembrane, which now has new properties, can then be detached and bonded to another less rare and more accessible substrate, such as silicon. These new production methods would have many benefits, as they are cheaper and more sustainable and leave a much smaller environmental footprint.”

However, the transfer of some applications to silicon would unlock the international market, while the preservation of performance would in turn create a volume market that would drastically reduce production costs.

Co-Chair Richard Arès believes that the nanomicroelectronics industry has always been seen as highly polluting and that there is currently a lot of pressure on the cost of components. “We’re trying to change that,” he said. “Because of its special characteristics, Ge is currently used in solar cells in space. This means that a material 100 times rarer than gold is used for a single application, sent into space, and then never seen again. This is the challenge we want to tackle. Reusing a highly precious material is a much more optimal approach for future generations and one that is rare for the industry. A Ge substrate that is 500 micrometres thick could create 500 Ge nanomembranes that can be deposited onto other substrates. This will open up a whole new global market. We have increasingly seen these industries looking to converge and manufacture everything on silicon substrates. Silicon is our planet’s most abundant element and a main component of the earth’s crust. Even quantum applications will likey move to be manufactured on the silicon platform as the volumes scale.”

A possible revolution in microelectronics

As explained by Vincent Aimez, Vice-President, Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer at UdeS, “integrating multiple industries such as optoelectronics, MEMS and quantum applications on a single silicon wafer would be an extremely significant innovation for the semiconductor industry. The collaboration with Umicore on this project is a major factor for success. The chair’s work on heterogeneous integration will lead to less expensive, greener, and more sustainable technology and help us better understand the properties of these materials. This major project is fully aligned with the integrated innovation chain that includes the Institut quantique, 3IT and C2MI and has a direct impact on UdeS’s socially relevant themes of Climate Change and Environment and Innovative Materials/Processes and Quantum Sciences.”

Innovation culture versus scientific culture

The research-team culture fostered by Richard Arès and Abderraouf Boucherif at 3IT is similar in many ways to what is found in the industry. On top of steadfast commitment to academic progress, they truly apply an industrial R&D approach with clear objectives and a highly structured organization focused on precise deliverables. This mindset has been recognized by the industry, notably by the chair’s partner, Umicore, which sees this not only as a significant shift from a more scientific culture to a culture of innovation but also a training approach that is truly tailored and connected to the workplace for these highly qualified individuals.


The chair’s main partner is Umicore a globally recognized leader in material recycling, with a strong commitment to ethical and environmental responsibility. Umicore's dedicated team diligently focuses on recycling and preserving valuable metals, including germanium (Ge), ensuring they are reintroduced into the world, contributing to a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

Kristof Dessein, the Innovation Director, expresses his immense satisfaction with the establishment of a long-term collaboration with Université de Sherbrooke. “We firmly believe that the remarkable advancements made in the Peeler project have created a new era of opportunities within the optoelectronic market. This pioneering, reusable substrate approach not only significantly reduces material consumption compared to traditional wafering methods but also effectively alleviates concerns related to Ge metal scarcity“.

He further highlights the significance of this new technology for the integration of III-V opto-electronic components on silicon, stating, "As material availability is no longer a concern and as Ge substrate size can be easily scaled to 300 mm, the standard for silicon, it’s the substrate of choice to transfer III-V layers, first epitaxially grown on germanium, onto silicon. This way, one can really unlock the full potential of hetero-integration.”

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Isabelle Huard, Media Relations Advisor
Communications Department | Université de Sherbrooke
819-821-8000, extension 63395 |