Tag Archives: semiconductor wafers

How Fast is Fast? Try 60 billion times per second

GLOBALFOUNDRIES manufacturing facility, Dresden, Germany

From the DARPA website

Competition for scarce electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is increasing, driven by a growing military and civilian demand for connected devices. As the spectrum becomes more congested, the Department of Defense (DoD) will need better tools for managing the EM environment and for avoiding interference from competing signals. One recent DARPA-funded advance, an exceptionally high-speed analog-to-digital converter (ADC), represents a major step forward. The ADC could help ensure the uninterrupted operation of spectrum-dependent military capabilities, including communications and radar, in contested EM environments. The advance was enabled by 32 nm silicon-on-insulator (SOI) semiconductor technologies available through DARPA’s ongoing partnership with GlobalFoundries, a manufacturer of highly-advanced semiconductor chips.

The EM spectrum, whose component energy waves include trillionth-of-a-meter-wavelength gamma rays to multi-kilometer-wavelength radio waves, is an inherently physical phenomenon. ADCs convert physical data—that is, analog data—on the spectrum into numbers that a digital computer can analyze and manipulate, an important capability for understanding and adapting to dynamic EM environments.  Today’s ADCs, however, only process data within a limited portion of the spectrum at a given time. As a result, they can temporarily overlook critical information about radar, jamming, communications, and other potentially problematic EM signals. DARPA’s Arrays at Commercial Timescales (ACT) program addressed this challenge by supporting the development of an ADC with a processing speed nearly ten times that of commercially available, state-of-the-art alternatives. By leveraging this increased speed, the resulting ADC can analyze data from across a much wider spectrum range, allowing DoD systems to better operate in congested spectrum bands and to more rapidly react to spectrum-based threats.

How fast is fast? The new ADC samples and digitizes spectrum signals at a rate of over 60 billion times per second (60 GigaSamples/sec). …The new ADC can provide a “one-stop shop” for processing radar, communications and electronic warfare signals.

Desirable as these blazing sampling speeds are, they also pose challenges. The amount of data generated is staggering, reaching nearly a terabyte per second. This high data rate requires on-chip data-management circuitry that allows signals to be processed locally on the ADC, reducing the amount of data that must be communicated to neighboring electronics. This on-board digital signal processing burns quite a bit of power and also demands state-of-the-art transistors. The 32 nm SOI technology offered by Global Foundries, the only certified DoD supplier of this circuit technology, provided ACT with the leading-edge transistors needed to sample and process the RF spectrum without exceeding power or data-transfer limitations.

Upcoming ACT designs will go further. By using GlobalFoundries’ even more advanced 14 nm technology, ACT’s next generation of ADCs aim to reduce power requirements by an additional 50 percent and enable yet smaller and lighter systems that can sample even greater swaths of the spectrum.

Excerpts from New Chips Ease Operations In Electromagnetic Environs, Jan. 11, 2016

Exports of Nuclear Parts to Iran, the tricky business of dual-use equipment

The US, which continues to put tremendous pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear “weapon” programme, was in for a shock recently when a California-based firm was fined by the country’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the Department of Commerce  (pdf) for sales of dual-use nuclear equipment that may have actually landed in Tehran.   It is alleged Mattson Technology sold 47 pressure transducers worth $78,000 ( to customers in Israel, Malaysia, China, Singapore, and Taiwan during 2006-08. Pressure transducers are dual-use equipment with nuclear applications in measuring the gas pressure inside centrifuge cascades.  The sales made to customers in China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan have particularly evoked concern because of their history as intermediaries for goods required for Iran’s sanctioned nuclear programme.  Mattson agreed to pay an $850,000 fine last month. However, $600,000 of the amount could be waived if the first installment of $250,000 is paid within 30 days of the order and the firm agrees to compliance with the terms of its probation (including not making any other illegal sales for a year).

Iran is known as an active purchaser of a large number of pressure transducers, according to a report by Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) – a renowned US-based think tank on nuclear non-proliferation.  Iran, the ISIS says, sent in 2008-2009, more than 40 requests for price quotes to German manufacturers.

US firm fined over nuclear gear ‘sale’ to Iran, India Today, May 28, 2012

According to the BIS “Abut May 2006, one of Mattson’s supply chain partners informed it that pressure transducers that Mattson [has been employing in its production process of semiconductor wafers] required export licenses when shipped to Mattson customers in certain foreign countries.”  However, Mattson continued its exports from June 7, 2006 to April 24, 2008.