Electrical Engineering Professor’s Program Review Meeting Reveals Exciting Technological Advances

Dr. Fisher Yu’s research explores the potential of Group IV alloys, a material with exciting high-tech applications, including mobile infrared cameras, high-speed computer processors, more efficient space communication, and self-driving vehicle sensors


Group IV alloy materials were all the rage during Dr. Fisher Yu’s NASA program review meeting last week. Germanium-Tin (GeSn), Silicon-Germanium (SiGe), and Silicon Germanium Tin (SiGeSn) are pretty amazing materials. They can be used to put night-vision cameras in your cell phone, incorporate Infrared imaging into your car’s safety sensors, make your computer’s processor uber-fast while simultaneously keeping its energy consumption low, keep your home’s carbon monoxide levels under check, and communicate with space vehicles in seconds. This is what electrical engineering is in its entire range – and we’re excited to be a part of it!

Germanium tin (GeSn) is the future of semiconducting materials. As one of Dr. Yu’s graduate researchers, Joshua Grant, put it- “we want to run information with light instead of wires at the chip level”! This would be like putting fiber optics in your computer’s processor. This is a new and exciting time for electrical engineers to make a significant technological difference and it’s happening right here at the University of Arkansas.

Dr. Fisher Yu’s “optically pumped” laser, which is injected with light, is an important starting point to developing a super highway for information travel thanks to the unique development of computer chips grown on silicon substrates and composed of germanium and tin. Traditional silicon computer chips cannot harness light emission this efficiently.

While applications like “space communication”, “solar cell efficiency”, and “autonomous machine sensors” may sound very sci-fi and unrelated to your everyday needs, this technology has very practical applications that hit closer to home. For example, how cool would it be to drive through a thick fog in the countryside and actually be able to see the deer before it completely totals your car? The type of technology Dr. Yu’s group is working with will be able to add an infrared feature to cameras in your car, your mobile phone, and other portable systems. This type of camera will make seeing obstacles on the road and seeing through precipitation possible. Beyond that application, this technology has great implications for first-responders like paramedics, search and rescue, and law-enforcement.

The incorporation of short-range infrared technology into a mobile camera for example, would be able to aid a search and rescue team in night time searches; Firefighters would be able to see through smoke; Law enforcement would be able to assess danger in unlit alleys (and so could you); paramedics would be able to view trauma under the skin imperceptible to the naked eye; food inspectors would be able to see produce damage quickly and more efficiently.

In addition to infrared technology, these materials can also have a huge impact on green energy. This is because SiGeSn materials can be used to create more efficient solar cells, which means power harnessing platforms like solar panels can use fewer of them for the same total power produced. This would save on the physical space needed for such projects as well as decrease the cost significantly.

Going back to the more “sci-fi” tech, conducting energy with light instead of wires means that cyber and space communication will be faster and clearer. Space researchers will be able to obtain data from satellites more effectively and your computer at home or in the office will be able to operate at a new range of high-speed. Another one of these futuristic applications regards autonomous vehicles- self-driving cars that are obstacle-cautious. For yet another safety application, infrared technology created with GeSn can be used to apply sensors to an autonomous car for spacing and the detection of other vehicles, pedestrians, and wildlife.