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Ozark to Build SiC UV Imager for NASA

$754,000 grant to develop photo-detecting chip that can operate in temperatures from -200 to 500degC

Matt Francis (left) and Jim Holmes of Ozark Integrated Circuits

NASA has awarded $754,000 to Ozark Integrated Circuits,  a spin-off from University of Arkansas, to build a SiC-based ultraviolet imager prototype for planetary exploration and Earth observation from space, among other applications.

The complex photo-detecting microchip will be designed to operate in temperatures ranging from -200 to 500degC.

"The uniqueness of our approach is the extreme responsiveness of our imager's sensor and our ability to integrate it with the readout electronics to turn the detector readings into images for a computer or spacecraft system," said Matt Francis, Ozark IC's president and chief executive officer. "NASA would be able to use the imager to observe areas on Earth from space as well as other objects in space."

The use of SiC means the imager can operate at low voltage over a very wide temperature range. That makes it well-suited for planetary exploration that requires space-borne instruments capable of measuring light in the ultraviolet spectrum. Two examples are NASA's Discovery and New Horizons missions - which intend to image planets from orbit or on the surface - and those proposed for Venus, where the imager would need to operate at nearly 500degC.

Francis and Jim Holmes, the company's chief technology officer, have worked with University of Arkansas electrical engineering professor Alan Mantooth and computer science and engineering professor Jia Di over the last several years to perfect design procedures, tools, characterisation and modeling approaches that enable them to design high-temperature electronics capable of operating at conditions well beyond 300degC.

Ozark IC will also use the integrated circuit packaging expertise and facilities of the U of A's High Density Electronics Research Centre (HiDEC). In electronics manufacturing, circuit packaging is the final stage of semiconductor device fabrication.

The NASA Phase II contract came through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which allows federal agencies to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening small businesses that meet federal research and development needs. The program also is intended to increase the commercial application of federally supported research results.

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