Europe, but more particularly Italy, must face new emerging realities whose increasing competition must be properly contrasted. The obvious
strategy is to innovate but obtaining and safeguarding technological leadership critically depend on the right implementation, the proper balance of roles and on creating the right boundary conditions.
The scientific and the socio-economical environment capable to favor employment in advanced industrial areas is a proper blending of various
components: University, industry, capital, entrepreneurial spirit and qualified users. The role of the scientific community is not just to create the technical background and the capability of using tools and instruments but must also to generate knowledge that is effectively usable in the medium term.
The process that give rise to the right combination of the key elements starts with a special attitude of one or more universities that, in a given geographical area, favor high-tech entrepreneurships by attracting advanced companies and giving rise to start-ups thanks to their special kind of research activity. The most relevant example is the Silicon Valley whose fortunes are due to the particular scientific and productive environment that is capable to continuously attracts scientists and engineers with high qualification.
The solidity of the environments is given by the difficulty of reproduction and its renew capability. The basis of a solid environment is made by own values, interrelations and operational methodologies that, refined in time, constitute a set of not coded boundary conditions making the geographical area attractive for high-tech companies and suitable for new entrepreneurial initiatives. The renew capabilities are determined by the kind of scientific knowledge and the continuous flow of people, ideas and interchanges between the scientific and the productive world.
The recently created University Institute for Advanced Studies (IUSS) for doct, post-doct and continuing high-education favored synergies with the University of Pavia by offering new ways of professional education capable to answer the needs of modern societies.
The Pavia’s scientific and entrepreneurial reality
The above general considerations have an excellent matching with the scientific and productive environment in the Pavia geographical region. The University has gained an excellent reputation in the fields of analog microelectronics by obtaining state-of-the-art results on problems that have important and practical implications on advanced real world problems. The number of researchers working on the field is well above the critical mass and counts 8 professors, 2 associate professors and 4 assistant professors. The support to the research topics is from many national and European projects made together industrial partners. Other research projects are directly sponsored by industries. The environment with feature similar to the ones described above attracted many semiconductor industries (STM, Maxim, International Rectifier, AMS, Marvell, National Semiconductors) that established design facilities.
Matching socio-economical and scientific objectives
The aims of any large research program should be both scientific and social; therefore, the research activity should be guided by the future needs of the society and more specifically the society that sustains the cost of the research.
The major benefit determined by the social and technological developments is the increasing average age of populations. In Italian (and in Europe) 25% of the citizens will be more than 60 years old in the year 2020 and is expected that and the number of citizens with more than 80 year old will
double. Therefore, we will have a shift of needs and a consequent market evolution. In addition to products for entertainment, cultural enrichment, and communication, it will be necessary to properly answer to the increasing requests of safety, health, and long-range well-being of persons and
The needs evolution will make many future products miniaturized and portable, wireless interconnected, capable of sensing and micro actuation with advanced human-machine interfaces. The energy required by multi-sensor systems for the operation and the communication within pico-area
networks, will come from batteries (possibly re-chargeable) or will be scavenged from the environment. For the home and the car safety and comfort new devices will provide an integrated monitoring and control of functions with medium and low power consumption.
Moving down from the application to the basic knowledge essential for their development it is immediate obtaining five golden features, as shown in Figure 1 that are both strategic and significantly linked.
Figure 1 - Key features of future industrial implementation
The sensing and the actuation is made competitive by new technology advancement. The analog signals need a proper conditioning, conversion to digital and data storage. The information must be transferred wireless with an optimum use of the power.
The evident interrelationship and the need of cross fertilization make the resulting set of scientific disciplines a key cluster for favoring innovation and high-tech employment.
Scientific basis at the University of Pavia
The research activity at the Pavia University almost corresponds to the five golden features as demonstrated by the research topics and the publications of the key researchers.
Sensors and actuators are not considered from the physical and chemical device but are studied from the electrical engineering point of view as proved by the activity within the recently created the IEEE Sensor Council (of which the coordinator of this proposal has been also President) and
research activity aiming at the integration of sensors with electronics and for adding features of miniaturization, networking and autonomous operation (NSF Project MAGIC, coordinator F. Maloberti). The publication record shows a background knowledge on the design of interfaces for various kind of sensors (including MEMS type) for temperature, magnetic field, UV, visible and IR optical, humidity and chemical compounds.
The activity on data converter at the University of Pavia spans from very high speed to ultra low-power obtained with the Nyquist-rate and oversampled methods. The focus is on data converters for portable systems and for communications. In addition to the significant credit demonstrated by the publication record, the project coordinator has recently finished a textbook “Data Converter” that will be published before the end of this year.
Multi-level non-volatile memories are key elements for integrated systems as they allow the required flexibility in the on-board processing and data transmission in power effective way. The background knowledge on design at the block level (memory cell, voltage boost, interface circuits) is very solid and demonstrated by the many publications over many years. The technological evolution that pushes toward very low voltage supply makes strategic the capability of integrating medium size memories with optimum power effectiveness.
The recent grown in the communication area has created a huge market in the mobile telephony for voice and data. New challenging standards and the need to be ahead of competitors determine the need of fully integrated systems. The research activity in this area is at the state-of-the art with many scientific publications of Pavia’s researchers describing RF silicon implementations. The existing knowledge is on all the aspects required by 3G applications and WLAN. The activity, spanning over many years, followed the frequency evolution of standards from less than one to many GHz.
The experience on design and modeling of micro-wave circuits with discrete components that is a strong estate of a research group of Pavia was instrumental for favoring the extension of the design capability integrated circuits in the ten of GHz range. The synergy between the micro-wave
and the RF activity enriched the testing and simulation competences.
Portable electronics is challenging for low-power but also for the design of dc-dc voltage converters with new features and high-efficiency. The optimization of systems requires using the optimum supply voltage at the block level and to minimize the use of components, leading for dc-dc voltage converter, to the request of multiple outputs while using a single inductor. The design knowledge on dc-dc voltage converters at various power level and charge pumps is solid and well established in Pavia with a significant publication record.
International scientific basis
The international research activity on the topics discussed above is intense and very productive.
The area of sensors and actuators is rapidly moving from the single device to the integration of complete systems as proved by the publications that were previously appeared on archives or conferences with focus on the single device (like Sensors and Actuators or Transducers), and now
are more and more topics of IEEE publications. The shift toward the system and the circuits used for interfacing the signals is also proved by the rapid grow of the new Journal “IEEE Sensors” (favored by the project coordinator as President of the IEEE Sensors) that increased quickly the number of published pages to more than 1000 per year.
The research activity on data converters, low power, memories, power electronics, communications and RF is one of the engines of the tremendous technical and economical grown of microelectronics. This engine together with digital and signal processing determines the basis for present and future pervasiveness of microelectronics. The scientific basis is available on international archives many of them published by IEEE and accessible via IEEEXplore.