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UW-Madison prof focuses research on digital 'chips' innovation

The effort aims to replace costly and toxic material used in smartphone, other chips

UW-Madison Professor Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma (UW-Madison photo)

MADISON, Wis. -- New research by a University of Wisconsin–Madison engineering professor leverages a surprising and inexpensive substance — wood — to make the flexible microwave circuits that help power modern communications. That wood material ---cellulose nanofibril paper--- could serve as a replacement for expensive and environmentally-toxic gallium arsenide used in chips for smartphones and tablets to serve as microwave amplifiers.

This has the potential to broaden the meaning of “chips” in forests and wood products. The small size of the chips suggest a low volume product in terms of cords or tons of wood used. However, it underscores the range of new products under study because of the ecological superiority of wood to many other materials.

In a paper in Nature Communications, Professor Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma, a UW–Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering, described how he and his team of researchers constructed a functional microwave amplifier circuit on a substrate of cellulose nanofibril paper, a wood product.

Ma’s green electronics laboratory has collaborated with researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, and from the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery to assess the feasibility of using the material based on wood material as a substrate for flexible electronic circuits.

And, instead of layering the entire wood substrate with expensive gallium nitride, currently the microwave transistor material, the team used just a speck of the compound. This is meaningful because the gallium material makes electronic products difficult and costly to recycle due to its arsenic content.

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