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New UW Spinout Z Plasma Aims to Keep Moore's Law Humming

The startup, called Z Plasma, has a patented method for producing the high-powered light used to turn pieces of silicon into the powerful microprocessors that make modern computing possible. And, the company says, its method is more stable and more powerful than the technologies being used today.

"In many ways, I feel like we're crashing a party," Berg says. "We've got an industry that's been going down one road, and we're saying, `Hey, you know that road you said was a dead end years ago? We think it's not a dead end with this innovation.'

The basic building blocks of computing

Microprocessors are the basic building blocks of computing, harnessing pulses of electricity to perform millions of mathematical operations each second. They're made by etching a bunch of electric circuits on a wafer of a carrier material, broadly speaking silicon.

And, crucially, Z Plasma believes its research is capable of producing much brighter light than competing light sources. During conventional EUV innovation is all in all striving to produce light at 100 watts, the Z Plasma device is designed to start out at 200 watts.

Turning this research into a company, but, would take some more work-and money. That's when Berg's experience came in handy. The veteran research executive, with stints at startups and Microsoft on his resume, had come to the UW for an entrepreneur-in-residence gig at the school's Center for Commercialization. He was looking for promising research to spin out of the university, and Shumlak and Nelson's light source was right on the verge.

The innovation out of the lab

To get the innovation out of the lab, they needed to show it would work on a much smaller scale. The apparatus Shumlak and Nelson had was about 10 feet long, and it created a relatively large pinch that didn't emit light in the very small beam needed for commercial uses.

So Berg turned to the Washington Technology Foundation, which gives grants to help universities and nonprofits get their innovation into the market. Last fall, the foundation gave a gift to the UW to help turn Shumlak and Nelson's technology into an early commercial prototype.

Open secret

Z Plasma is now an open secret. Berg is out talking to leaders in the semiconductor industry in search of possible partnerships to develop the Z Plasma research even furthermore.

If larger companies aren't ready to bankroll the then phase of work, Berg hopes to get a list of milestones that manufacturers want to see earlier taking on the research, which could serve as critical proof of interest for possible venture investors.

Young as things are, this company thinks it's spent plenty of time in the lab. The Z Plasma team is restless to get down to business.

The semiconductor industry is currently facing

"We have a research that we think solves a tremendously important problem that the semiconductor industry is currently facing," Berg says. "We don't want to build a product as a research demonstration. That's not what this is all about. We want to see this used to make chips in high volume."

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More information: Xconomy
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