Mike-ScarpullaUniversity of Utah materials science and engineering associate professor Mike Scarpulla wants to shed light on semiconductors — literally.

Scarpulla and senior scientist Kirstin Alberi of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, have developed a theory that adding light during the manufacturing of semiconductors — the materials that make up the essential parts of computer chips, solar cells and light emitting diodes (LEDs) — can reduce defects and potentially make more efficient solar cells or brighter LEDs. The role of light in semiconductor manufacturing may help explain many puzzling differences between processing methods as well as unlock the potential of materials that could not be used previously.

Scarpulla and Alberi reported their findings in a paper titled “Suppression of Compensating Native Defect Formation During Semiconductor Processing Via Excess Carriers,” published June 16 in the journal, Scientific Reports. The research was funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Semiconductors are pure materials used to produce electronic components such as computer chips, solar cells, radios used in cellphones or LEDs. The theory developed by Scarpulla and Alberi applies to all semiconductors but is most exciting for compound semiconductors — such as gallium arsenide (GaAs), cadmium telluride (CdTe), or gallium nitride (GaN) — that are produced by combining two or more elements from the periodic table. GaAs is used in microwave radios in cellphones, CdTe in solar panels, and GaN in LED light bulbs.

Read the full press release at the U News Center.