If you’re reading this on your smartphone, you’re relying on technology that would not exist without compound semiconductors (CS). Performing up to 100 times faster than silicon chips, they’re at the heart of the ‘Internet of Things’ – from healthcare devices and autonomous vehicles to a host of unimagined breakthroughs.

Cardiff-headquartered IQE holds the lion’s share of the global CS materials market and has worked with Cardiff University for decades. But the collaboration intensified recently as they joined forces to find ways of bridging the so-called ‘Valley of Death’ between R&D and commercial reality.

Based in South Wales, the partners have developed the world’s first CS cluster – CS Connected – with the potential to lever £375m of private sector investment and create up to 2,000 high skilled jobs.

The collaboration has attracted game-changing investment: the UK Government’s decision to establish £50m Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, making the latest technology available to small and medium-sized businesses; £38m from the Cardiff Capital Region for a Compound Semiconductor Foundry, and £12m from EPSRC for the Future Compound Semiconductor Manufacturing Hub which applies ‘Silicon Valley’ techniques to drive a pipeline of innovation in the cluster.

A spirit of co-operation also underpins Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) Ltd. The for-profit jointventure between the University and IQE overcomes decades-long obstacles to getting research into society, using the expertise of the Institute for the pilot production of new compound semiconductor technology. CSC secured nine collaborative R&D projects worth £5.4m throughout 2017 to develop new CS solutions ranging from ultra-high speed data communications to consumer cosmetic products and wearable healthcare.

The Centre works alongside the Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS). State-of-the-art equipment, facilities and international experts support world-class research that helps industry partners. The Institute received funding from the Welsh Government, the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund and Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO). Building on Cardiff’s expertise in CS technologies, ICS focuses on device fabrication and the development of innovative growth methods, materials technologies, and small scale pilot production.

As part of ICS, a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) has been established, placing research associate Dr Lewis Kastein within IQE’s developing eco-system. Using knowledge and techniques developed at Cardiff University, Dr Kastein will help IQE develop and embed new characterisation capabilities, strengthening their leading role in manufacturing CS materials.

More R&D programme wins are expected in the years ahead as CS technologies continue to shape our lives in the 21st century.


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.