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New semiconductor material is a super-hot topic

Snow may be hampering deliveries but it has failed to stop the early arrival of Professor Phil Mawby's Christmas present - a special furnace that can reach 1800C.

The weather outside may be frightful, but the furnace will raise temperatures in Professor Mawby's University of Warwick lab to 500C higher than traditional silicon furnaces. It will be used to make power semiconductor devices in silicon carbide, a material which is revolutionising electrical energy management.

"We are delighted to have this new furnace - it will allow us to really push the boundaries of what we know about silicon carbide and how it functions under such intense temperatures," said Professor Mawby as he took delivery of the furnace this week. "This will allow us as a university to make great strides in developing the material for use in energy management, and hopefully find a means of using the material to run electrical energy in a much more efficient manner.

"Silicon carbide is the next-generation semiconducting material. It is very similar to silicon, but a much smaller piece of the material can perform the same functionality, meaning space and weight are saved, and less heat is lost."

The new furnace has been funded by the Science City Research Alliance Energy Efficiency Project (EEP). The EEP is part of a larger investment by Advantage West Midlands and the European Regional Development Fund in the research infrastructure of the West Midlands region, which unites the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick in a research partnership formed under the Birmingham Science City initiative.

The £10.5m EEP has already invested £1.8m in a state of the art clean-room at Warwick which has the capability to manufacture the complete silicon carbide device process.

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