Research Activities

  A Point-of Care System for Cardiac Diagnostics

According to some recent estimates, by 2010, over 60 % of the worlds cardiac patients will be in India. However, cardiac related care is almost non-existent in the smaller hospitals and primary healthcare centres, and this project is expected to fulfil this need. The idea is to develop low-cost diagnostic aids for cardiac dysfunctions. As part of this vision, there is an ongoing effort in the centre to develop an integrated system to provide point-of-care diagnostic support for cardiovascular diseases. The system under development monitors the molecular markers to detect cardiac attacks, especially the incipient cardiac attacks that go undetected before major/fatal attacks occur. The system comprises of infarcSens or iSens, which is a cantilever- and molecular FET-based affinity biosensor array for sensing myocardial infarction and subsequent cardiac status prognosis, using a suite of molecular markers such as myoglobin, troponin. A low cost polymeric cantilever technology with embedded electrical readout schemes has been recently demonstrated in the group with electrical sensitivities in the range of a few ppm per nanometer of deflection, suitable for cardiac marker sensing. The sensing electronics is already in place while the associated data management software for tracking the markers with time, required for creating an epidemiological database, is currently being developed.

  A Cantilever based Electronic Nose for Explosive Detection

At IIT Bombay, in the Centre for Excellence in Nanoelectronics, explosive detection down to the parts-per-billion level of sensitivity for RDX and TNT has been demonstrated using an extremely sensitive and low cost piezo-resistive polymer cantilever structures. These detectors are meant for vapour phase detection of explosive molecules and come with an integrated wireless transmission capability. The surface stress which causes the deflection of the cantilever is generated from a selective chemical reaction on the surface of the cantilever. The cantilever surface can be regenerated after detection for subsequent measurements. The technologies are particularly suitable for wireless sensing networks and are extremely low cost. Further efforts are currently underway to improve on the selectivity aspect in order to make them useful for deployment in public places.

  Silicon Locket

For mobile monitoring of ECG, a small sized low-cost locket has recently been developed in the centre by integrating a low power microcomputer with an indigenously developed operating system, analog front-end electronics and a re-chargeable battery with an in-built charger. The system is optimized to acquire a three lead simultaneous electrocardiogram (ECG), reconfigurable up to 12-leads, and can correct for motion artefacts arising out of the physical activity of the patient. The ECG data can be either stored in the Micro SD card memory, or transmitted through a phone modem or GPRS network. An arrhythmia event can be detected in real-time using the built-in algorithms and the system is configured to automatically inform a medical practitioner through SMS in the event of an arrhythmia. The system also allows the doctor to remotely login to the locket to view patients ECG in real time or download the data using a graphical user interface. The locket is equipped with USB, IrDA and RS232 ports for seamless integration with public networks, mobile phones, and personal computers. An ultra low power custom made analog integrated circuit (IC) is designed and tested which performs all the data acquisition & signal conditioning. A low cost polymeric accelerometer technology developed in the centre is integrated into the electrodes to detect and remove motion artifacts in ambulatory subjects. A pluggable ultra-small PSTN modem is constructed to transfer data to a remote computer or medical database. A 32-bit system-on-chip based base-station is also developed as an accessory for the Silicon Locket. The base station is a handheld system with a higher processing power and a color TFT LCD panel. The base unit primarily has advanced in-built data management and analysis software for ECG analysis. The silicon locket, developed in cooperation with the Tata Consultancy Services, is the smallest wearable ECG recorder in the world, for its features. The technology is currently being transferred to an industry.

 Disposable Organic Sensors with on-chip Electronics

There is significant amount of activity in the centre for developing sensors using organic materials for a variety of applications, for sensing of biological reactions to physical measurands. A group of faculty members from the Chemistry Department and EE Department , and their students are working closely in the Centre in synthesizing & engineering various organic molecules for specific sensing applications. Using solution processed organic materials, various organic circuits have also been recently demonstrated in the group. By integrating a high-k gate dielectric, low-voltage operation of these sensor circuits is demonstrated using solution processed organic materials. Currently a variety of projects are underway based on this approach.

 Future Generation Charge Trap Flash Memories

The ever increasing demand for data storage is propelling a strong growth in NAND type Nonvolatile Flash memories. Unlike hard disk drives that store data on rotating magnetic disks, NAND Flash memories store data as electronic charges in memory transistors. The scaling of NAND Flash to smaller cell sizes is a crucial aspect in meeting the high bit storage demand. The currently used floating-gate memory cells are unlikely to respond to scaling, and are likely to be replaced by different types of cells. One of these is the SONOS flash cell, and the other is the nanocrystal flash cell. The Center for Excellence in Nanoelectronics, together with Applied Materials, USA, is engaged in materials innovation to tackle some of the issues observed in these types of cells. Silicon Nitride (SiN), an insulator, is used as a charge storage element, and separated from the gate and substrate by oxide layers (hence the name SONOS). Recently, the Centre and Applied Materials, in a project supported by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), have created an engineered trap layer, i.e., a sandwiched structure consisting of two SiN layers having dissimilar composition (Si:N ratio) with a Silicon Oxynitride barrier layer. This new memory cell has shown much improved memory performance, and this ground-breaking work has recently received significant international publicity (see Efforts are also underway to use semiconductor and metal Nano Crystals (NCs) as the charge storage medium. In these memory cells, an insulating layer containing the nanocrystals (which trap charge) replaces the SiN layer in SONOS. Though easy to fabricate, the finite density of states of semiconductor (silicon or germanium) NCs limits the number of electrons that can be stored in semiconductor NC based storage (due to Quantum Confinement or QC effect) and hence the resultant memory window between high and low. Once again, IIT Bombay and Applied Materials are working together to develop both single and bi-layer metal NC based charge storage. Metal NCs do not suffer from QC effect and offer extremely large memory window suitable for NAND applications. Efforts are underway to optimize the performance and reliability (cycling endurance) of metal NC systems. The work on flash memories is being done by EE Dept and Dept of Physics Professors, and their students.

 Bottom-Up approaches for CMOS Scaling

Porphyrin and metallo-porphyrin systems are excellent materials for molecular electronics, due to their diverse structural motifs and associated electrical, optical and chemical properties. The porphyrin SAMs engineered for specific applications are currently being explored in the centre as Cu diffusion barriers and for gate work-function engineering in CMOS. An inter-disciplinary team in the Nanoelectronics Centre has also been exploring the porphyrin SAMs for molecular electronics applications as well as for intercalation with DNA to realize a molecular switch with DNA acting as an interconnect. It has also been recently demonstrated that presence of aromatic rings in a porphyrin core would sterically hinder the Cu diffusion between molecules through the SAM layer, making it suitable as a barrier layer for Cu interconnects in ULSI CMOS technologies.