TeraNova spin-off: Enabling contact-free metrology 

In September 2019, start-up company TeraNova saw the light. Director Mohammad Ramezani tells about the first eventful year of the company, and sheds light on future plans.

‘At the Surface Photonics group of Jaime Gómez Rivas, we regularly receive requests from industry for help with practical problems. This was the driving force for creating a start-up,’ Ramezani explains. The company explicitly aims at developing new technology, not at providing consultancy services alone, he emphasizes. ‘For example, currently, we are simultaneously developing a unique terahertz near field microscope and a small inspection microscope.’

Making the invisible visible

Terahertz radiation is light outside the visible spectrum that is particularly difficult to generate and detect. Despite these limitations, THz radiation can literally make the invisible visible, being of great interest for multiple applications. TeraNova’s instrument consists of both a laser and a probe. The laser is used to illuminate a sample. A THz probe is quickly scanning over the surface to measure the response of the material with very high spatial resolution over large areas.

‘The terahertz microscope technology is the outcome of an ERC Proof of Concept project’, Ramezani tells. ‘With this microscope, you can inspect the electrical quality of semiconductor wafers without breaking or touching them. At the moment, there is no other technology available that can perform these types of inspections at a distance, without interfering with the wafer itself. That is especially interesting in the emerging field of photonic chips, since increasing the yield of these chips is of vital importance for a successful broad implementation of the technology.’

“Despite these limitations, THz radiation can literally make the invisible visible, being of great interest for multiple applications.”

The smaller inspection microscope was developed as a side project for a specific customer who wants to investigate the quality of nanostructures. ‘The current metrology solutions that are available on the market are way too advanced and too costly for the purpose of this client,’ Ramezani explains. ‘We are now building a second version of an earlier prototype we made, that can act as a small, relatively cheap, non-invasive quality inspection instrument. This instrument is tailored for applications other than semiconductor chip fabrication.’ 

Two innovation grants

Over the past year, TeraNova managed to acquire both an NWO-take off grant and a Metropolitan Region Eindhoven Grant. The NWO-take off grant will be used to investigate the feasibility of the terahertz instrument and draft a business plan for it. The Metropolitan Region Eindhoven Grant will be used to further develop the smaller microscope for metrology of nanostructured surfaces.

The start-up company is and will remain to be closely connected to the research at TU/e. ‘For us as a young company, the university acts as a source of inspiration, expertise and facilities.’ And the cooperation is mutually beneficial, Ramezani says: ‘By testing different types of photonic integrated circuits made with different recipes, we offer the researchers the ability to qualify what they have made, and to adjust their recipes to optimize certain desired properties. At the same time, we can use these measurements to build a portfolio and establish the relevance of our technology for the field.’ 

More information www.teranova.nl