Surface Science and Engineering is the study of phenomena occurring when two phases of matter interact. It's incredibly important in the fields of heterogeneous catalysis, semiconductors, electronics and nanofabrication. It also plays a major role in the development of alternative energy sources, such as solar and hydrogen fuel cells. The department has access to excellent surface research facilities including the Alberta Centre for Surface Engineering and Science (ACSES) as well as the National Institute for Nanotechnology.
Dr. Ken Cadien is the Canada Research Chair in Nanofabrication, and has produced numerous patents relating to chemical mechanical polishing (CMP). CMP has the ability to make atomically smooth surfaces, which are important in the manufacture of ultra-thin devices. By inserting tungsten plugs through silicon wafers and polishing them ultra-smooth, the wafers can be directly stacked directly, eliminating the bulk of wiring. The smoother the polish, the more exact the connection.
(left) An AFM image of a SiO2 surface after tungsten polish with a root mean square roughness of 0.15 nm compared to an incoming roughness of 14.2 nm. (center) a cross-section of a device with tungsten plugs (white areas) connecting the layers (right) close-up of a tungsten plug after polishing