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Engineering trio wins $10,000 prize for new type of semiconductor memory
16 April 2002

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

Three Ph.D. engineering students captured top prize in Berkeley’s first Innovators’ Challenge competition. The trio developed a new type of semiconductor memory that could improve hand-held devices and miniature electronics.

Charles Kuo and Daewon Ha, in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and Pushkar Ranade, in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, were awarded the grand prize of $10,000.

Kuo, Ha, and Ranade chose to develop a "capacitorless double-gate cell for sub-100 nm DRAM technologies," noting that "there are no known solutions that can be readily applied to scale DRAM (dynamic random access memory) today," said Ranade.

  VERTEX winners
Left to right: Berkeley graduate students Pushkar Ranade, Charles Kuo, and Daewon Ha took first prize in the VERTEX Innovators' Challenge on April 13.

"While a lot of work has focused on reducing the size of logic transistors, much work and innovation are also needed in scaling memories," he noted.

Sponsored by VERTEX, an entrepreneurship club formed by Berkeley engineering students, the competition culminated with the Saturday, April 13 judging. The event at Berkeley's Soda Hall brought together 20 technology leaders from industry, venture capital firms and academia, who evaluated 18 projects across all disciplines in the College of Engineering. Judges included the founder of Hotmail, the director of Advanced Systems at Microsoft Corp, a senior vice president at Applied Materials and a partner at Sevin Rosen Funds. Top sponsors included the founders of Berkeley startup Timbre Technologies, Sevin Rosen Funds, Microsoft, Cadence Design Systems and Applied Materials.

Contest judges praised the top team for developing a technology that could potentially revolutionize industries and markets.

Ranade, Kuo and Ha began to design their semiconductor cell a year ago as part of a collaborative project in the College of Engineering’s Device Research Group. "Electrical engineering and computer sciences professors Chenming Hu and Tsu-Jae King were instrumental in supporting and advising us along the way," the students said. "Devices for experimental measurements were graciously provided by visiting professor Mansun Chan, as well."

On Saturday, anxiety was high as the teams waited for the judges to announce who had won the competition. "When they didn’t announce our names for honorable mentions and second/third places, we were nervous," Ranade said. "We thought we did well, but were uncertain if we would capture the top prize because of the stiff competition. But we were delighted when our names were announced."

They celebrated with friends at Sushi-Rika, "a great sushi restaurant in the city," Ranade reported.

The second-place prize of $5,000 went to a group of electrical engineering and computer sciences graduate students for their project, "Digital Lithography for Next Generation IC Manufacturing." Third prize of $5,000 went to students from nuclear engineering and physics for their "Maskless Micro-ion-beam Reduction Lithography." Both of these technologies applied Moore’s Law – creating circuits of increasingly smaller size and higher performance – in different and creative ways.

However, judges said they were impressed with the whole array of projects vying for entrepreneurial recognition.

"I saw several projects…that clearly could change the course of information technology development," said judge David Lane, a general partner of Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park. "The depth and breadth of the revolutionary technology developments demonstrated was very impressive."

Several of the projects held the potential of becoming "the basic building blocks" of innovative new companies, Lane said. "Over the years I have seen many projects at the best engineering schools in the U.S., and VERTEX’s winning projects definitely rank among the most promising."