Research: 2019 year in review

 December 2019

Clinatec’s innovative neuroprosthesis and exoskeleton protected by eighteen patents

Clinatec’s Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) project was recently featured in The Lancet Neurology* and has appeared in the media worldwide. This groundbreaking project shows just how powerful the Clinatec model—medical doctors and technology experts working side-by-side under one roof—is at driving innovation.

The WIMAGINE® implantable medical device is the first technology brick in Clinatec’s BCI project. And, with a level of performance never seen before, WIMAGINE® is truly unique. The 64-channel system measures and digitizes brain signals and transmits them wirelessly and in real time with low noise and remarkable precision.

The algorithms used to decode the brain signals and translate them into the patient’s intentions of movement and into commands to control the exoskeleton form the second technology brick of the BCI project. These machine learning algorithms are the focus of the majority of the eighteen patents filed to protect the innovations developed as part of this project.

Last, but not least, the exoskeleton itself is built on existing technology bricks developed for prior CEA robotics programs. The battery-operated four-limb exoskeleton has two integrated computers to ensure the command-control functions. There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world.

Most of the images picked up by the media showed the patient standing. The images may not be as spectacular, but detecting the patient’s intentions of movement of the arm and wrist—eight degrees of freedom—is actually much more complicated from a technical standpoint. The BCI project has overcome these challenges and will continue to drive new advances that will help make patients’ lives better.

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*The research published in The Lancet Neurology was co-authored by Alim-Louis Benabid (first author) and 23 other scientists from Leti, List, and Grenoble-Alpes University Medical Center.

Diabeloop’s artificial pancreas for children earns kudos from EIT

Grenoble-based startup Diabeloop won the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) InnovEIT award in October for its D4Kids project to develop an automated diabetes-management system for children suffering from type 1 diabetes. The future system will improve patients’ quality of life and reduce the occurrence of hypo- and hyperglycemia. The system’s graphical user interface was designed to ensure that children can easily understand the data.

The company recently completed three clinical trials at pediatric medical centers in Belgium and France, including Necker Medical Center in Paris. In other news, Diabeloop is waiting for France’s healthcare authority to approve the DBLG1 System for adults for coverage under the national healthcare insurance system.

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Spin-charge conversion: What could be simpler?

An international team that included researchers from IRIG recently presented a simple, yet effective system for converting a spin current into an electrical current. They deposited aluminum onto a strontium titanate (SrTiO3) substrate at room temperature. The aluminum “pumps” the oxygen contained in the substrate and makes it conductive. The spin built up in the 2D electron gas that forms on the surface of the substrate can then be converted into an electrical current. The conversion is modulated using a simple electrostatic grid.

But perhaps what makes the phenomenon truly remarkable is that no ferromagnetic materials are involved. In addition, the conversion factor is between 10 and 100 times higher than with known high-performance materials like platinum. This advance should open the door to the development of new memory and transistor concepts.

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SiC pilot line coming soon to the Substrate Innovation Center

The Soitec-Leti Substrate Innovation Center will open a SiC (silicon carbide) pilot line in 2020 as part of a joint development program recently announced by Soitec and Applied Materials. The partners will develop solutions for electric vehicles, telecommunications, and other markets. SiC is already a leading material for these applications. However, it is less common for industrial applications due to its high cost and low fabrication yields.

Soitec will leverage its Smart CutTM technology, which the company uses for its SOI products.
Applied Materials will contribute materials engineering know-how. Audi, which has made EVs one of its top priorities, will be just one of the companies keeping a close eye on the new pilot line.

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October 2019

Leti active in Grenoble artificial intelligence institute

Leti, which kicked off a major R&D program on embedded artificial intelligence this year, is also part of Grenoble’s new Multidisciplinary Institute in Artificial Intelligence (MIAI – Multidisciplinary Institute in Artificial Intelligence), which will receive €100 million in government and private-sector funding over four years to finance R&D partnerships with around 50 businesses and 28 research chairs. One of the main objectives of the new institute is to get different labs in Grenoble’s sci-tech ecosystem working together.

Leti has been tasked with coordinating four of the chairs—on neuromorphic architectures, patient involvement in the management of medical treatment, telecommunications network optimization, and the impact of artificial intelligence on society. Work began this summer.

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How to read and modify a quantum bit, step by step

A team of researchers from Grenoble (IRIG, Leti, and CNRS) made headlines in 2016 with the world’s first FDSOI qubit device—based on holes rather than electrons—made on a 300 mm CMOS fab line. Now they can read the state of the qubit, too. The researchers used a screen-grid reflectometry method, applying microwave signals to the grid to modify the qubit’s state.

The read technique is still lacking in precision. However, it will be useful for the rapid characterization (coherence time, relaxation time, etc.) of qubits made in Grenoble. Plus, the technique will be easy to duplicate on future circuits made up of several qubits. The research was published in Nature Communications in an article that came shortly after another team of researchers from Grenoble published their research on gate-based high-fidelity spin readout in a CMOS qubit, in Nature Nanotechnology.

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June 2019

MRAM memory gets new recipe

Researchers at Spintec have come up with a new way to improve MRAM memory retention, using tungsten instead of tantalum in the magnetic tunnel junction stacks. When the stacks are made, they must be annealed to crystallize the junctions. During annealing, the tantalum tends to diffuse toward the tunnel barrier, absorbing oxygen in the process. It also absorbs some of the iron in the magnetic electrode, modifying the electrode’s chemical composition. These phenomena alter MRAM magnetoresistance and retention (how long information can be stored).

This undesirable effect occurs at temperatures greater than 300 °C; annealing can take place at temperatures of 400 °C. Therefore, it is a good idea to replace the tantalum with tungsten, which migrates less and captures less iron during annealing.

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April 2019

AIDS vaccine: Lipidots® open the door to a novel approach

Researchers from Leti, CEA Sciences, and INSERM injected Lipidots® (lipid-based nanoparticles) containing the p24 protein of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) into an animal model and obtained a robust and complete immune response.

Lipidots® were created by Leti and CNRS in 2006 to encapsulate and deliver drugs or fluorescent chemical compounds to “target” cells. The lipid-based nanoparticles are easy to produce on a large scale, stable, and well-tolerated by the human organism. They are protected by a total of fourteen patents.

Antibodies and T-cells
Recent research to investigate a novel approach to an HIV vaccine could give Lipidots® a new use. The researchers grafted the p24 protein, a fragment of the HIV viral capsid, and immunostimulants onto the lipid-based nanoparticles. They obtained the production of a large number of antibodies and a very strong T-cell response.

The size of the Lipidots®, which measure just 100 nm in diameter, was a plus. The tiny Lipidots® can effectively enter the lymphatic vessels and reach the nodes, where the immune response is triggered.

The next step will be to experiment with a broader approach by encapsulating several antigens. The road to an AIDS vaccine that is effective in humans remains long. This latest advance could help get there faster.

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Changing the magnetic chirality of skyrmions

The skyrmion—a magnetic quasiparticle measuring just a few nanometers—continues to garner great interest in the world of spintronics. Researchers from Spintec, Institut Néel, and LSPM (Process and Materials Science Laboratory (CNRS)) recently demonstrated that the interaction that sets skyrmion chirality (or spin direction) is modulated in a linear manner by lattice tension. If the tensions studied are extrapolated further, it appears that the phenomenon could ultimately change skyrmion chirality. If this discovery is accurate, it would make the skyrmion, used as a magnetic logic unit, easy to manipulate by applying tension.

The research is continuing under a project funded by the French National Research Agency and is now focusing on applying greater tensions and confirming that tension can indeed reverse spin direction. The researchers would also like to conduct further investigations into the irreversibility obtained when tension is applied for longer periods.

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Retina: 3D-integrated image processing

Researchers from Leti made a significant technological advance when they completed the 3D integration of a 1024 x 768 pixel imager and a 192 multicore-processor chip. The two components are stacked and physically and electrically connected by direct bonding of their metal layers. The pixels integrate the read and scan electronics. The 3D assembly enables massively parallel interconnection of the pixels to the processor array. The demonstrator, which was given the name Retina, boasts enough processing power to handle 5,500 images per second.

The module could potentially lighten the load of a central processor by completing value-added tasks like detecting anomalies, focusing on areas of interest, and capturing moving objects, in its place. Leti has filed several patents and is currently working on a second generation of the technology.

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Bernard Dieny earns IEEE recognition

The IEEE Magnetics Society Career Achievement Award 2019 was given to IRIG (formerly INAC) researcher and Spintec cofounder Bernard Dieny in Washington.

The award has traditionally gone to the greatest minds in international magnetism research: Bernard Dieny is certainly no exception, with a total of 430 publications and 70 patents to his name. He played a pivotal role in the emergence of the giant magnetoresistance spin valves that long equipped hard drive read heads. And his team made substantial contributions to the convergence between magnetism and microelectronics, as well as to the success of MRAM magnetic memory technology, which was adopted by manufacturers like Samsung, TSMC, and Intel. Currently he is investigating new MRAM memory concepts and magnetic logic components.

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February 2019

300 mm: Leti brings state-of-the-art technology to industry

Thanks to Nano 2022 initiative funding, Leti will complete installation of its first wave of 30 pieces of 300 mm microelectronics equipment in 2019. The equipment will expand Leti’s technological capabilities, positioning the institute to address tomorrow’s innovations.

The Nano 2022 initiative, financed by the CEA, the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Regional Council, and the French government via the Directorate General for Enterprise, is spectacular in scope and in terms of its budget. The equipment purchased under Nano 2022 will give Leti one of Europe’s most advanced R&D cleanrooms in Europe. The most remarkable piece of equipment to be acquired is an ASML immersion lithography system.

300 mm technology to catch up with 200 mm within two years
The new equipment also aligns with several strategic priorities. The first is to possess equipment similar to what is used by industrial customers (300 mm). The second is to ensure the confidentiality of customers’ R&D projects, something that requires a complete fleet of equipment. Finally, with the launch of the Substrate Innovation Center, Soitec will move a significant portion of its R&D activities to Leti. This world-class prototyping center will primarily develop new materials.

Around fifteen pieces of equipment will be installed in 2019, rounding out the institute’s existing resources, and the development of 300 mm processes will begin. These tasks will be completed by special project teams made up of employees of the CEA, the equipment manufacturers, and subcontractors. The institute’s 300 mm activities should catch up with 200 mm within two years.

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