New cryo-lab at TU Ilmenau for research into bioinspired electronics

Technische Universität Ilmenau has commissioned a cryoanalytics laboratory for basic research into innovative materials for micro- and nanoelectronics. Inspired by biology, new materials for electronic components and systems are being researched here at extremely low temperatures. The neuromorphic electronics being developed at TU Ilmenau are highly efficient and extremely energy-saving. The construction of the cryoanalytics laboratory was carried out as part of the "Research Laboratories Microelectronics Germany (ForLab)" program funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and is a central component of the Research Laboratory Microelectronics Ilmenau for Neuromorphic Electronics (ForLab NSME).

At the TU Ilmenau, neuromorphic electronic systems are developed, i.e. microelectronic components and circuits based on neurobiological laws. The microelectronics, which function with biologically inspired signal processing and storage mechanisms, are at the same time particularly powerful and extremely energy-efficient. To this end, scientists from five disciplines, led by Prof. Martin Ziegler, head of the Micro- and Nanoelectronic Systems Group, combine so-called memristors with superconducting and neuromorphic circuits. The term memristor - a combination of the words memory and resistor - describes electronic components that are able to store information through variable resistance states. The memory effect, which is similar to that of synapses, i.e. the contact points of nerve cells in the brain, is provided to electronic components by the atomic structure of the materials from which they are made.

High-performance, energy-efficient electronics, such as those being researched by ForLab NSME, are the order of the day. The digital revolution has led to a rapid increase in energy demand worldwide. Already today, the hardware used in IT applications around the globe consumes a quarter of the total electrical energy produced worldwide - and the trend is rising sharply: scientific projections predict that in less than 15 years, the total worldwide production of electrical energy will no longer be sufficient to cover the power requirements of IT hardware.

"sensational possibilities in the field of research and development"

Wissenschaftler begutachtet RastertunnelmikroskopTU Ilmenau / Lutz Müller

A low-temperature scanning electron microscope and a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope have been purchased and already put into operation for the work in the laboratories of the Center for Micro- and Nanotechnologies at TU Ilmenau. These ultra-high resolution microscopes allow the investigation of neuromorphic and superconducting materials. Material surfaces can be imaged with atomic precision and their electronic structure can be spectroscoped with high energy resolution. Prof. Stefan Sinzinger, Vice President for Research and Young Scientists at TU Ilmenau, was enthusiastic at the opening of the new research facility: "With this laboratory for high-resolution cryoanalytics, we have equipment here in Ilmenau that offers us sensational possibilities in the field of research and development."

At the opening of the cryo lab, Prof. Peter Schaaf, head of Materials for Electrical Engineering and Electronics and co-initiator of the project, was downright enthusiastic about the "completely new possibilities on the way to green electronics. Only a few research institutions in the world are able to perform scanning electron microscopy at minus 267 degrees Celsius like we are. This allows us to view our neuromorphic materials and circuits in the superconducting state during in-situ microstructural studies. The extremely low temperatures also allow us to visualize changes in memristive materials that allow us to see not only if something is working, but why it is working. This allows us to optimize our devices so that they work much better."

"This is real quantum mechanics!"

Wissenschaftler forscht in KryolaborTU Ilmenau/André Wirsig

Prof. Jörg Kröger, head of Experimental Physics 1 and also co-initiator of the project, is working on the fundamental physical aspects of the project in the cryogenic scanning tunneling microscope. With the help of cryoanalysis, atoms and molecules can be specifically positioned with an atomic probe. These artificial structures, also known as nanolabs, make it possible to uncover and understand the physical mechanisms of future memristors. Using the microscope, Prof. Kröger can now conduct experiments in a way that only a few research groups worldwide can: "This complements the existing capabilities of TU Ilmenau in a way that I hardly dared to dream of. We can use it to observe the properties of these smallest structures, for example, how they conduct supercurrent through monatomic circuits or how they emit light collectively. This is real quantum mechanics!"

The new lab equipment also includes a helium liquefaction system that collects helium exhaust from the cryogenic facilities to convert it back into liquid helium, which is then reused to cool experiments. This cycle makes the university significantly less dependent on helium reserves, which are becoming increasingly scarce and therefore more expensive.

The Microelectronics Research Laboratory in Ilmenau is one of a total of twelve currently being built throughout Germany as part of the ForLab programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. With the award of the contract by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for a laboratory in Ilmenau, the university prevailed in a multi-stage selection process against a total of 40 research institutions.

Prof. Martin Ziegler

Head of Department Micro- and Nanoelectronic Systems
+49 3677 69-3711


Neuromorphic electronics

In this interview, Professor Martin Ziegler explains how he develops electronics that are inspired by biology

To the interview