Dvorak wins doctoral prize

May 15, 2003, vol. 27, no. 2
By Marianne Meadhal



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Martin Dvorak (left) didn't physically dash across a finish line to set his world record for speed. But his achievement has been deemed worthy of a prestigious medal.

Dvorak is the recipient of a 2003 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) doctoral prize for his creation of the world's fastest bipolar transistor, a microscopic device that controls signals transmitted on optical fibers. He is one of four researchers to be chosen from universities across Canada to receive the award, worth $10,000. He also receives a silver medal.

Dvorak carried out the work as a graduate student in SFU's school of engineering science. He graduated in 2002 and is continuing his work with California-based Agilent Technologies Inc., in the commercialization of similar technologies.

Dvorak didn't set out to double the transistor's speed. “When you're working on any kind of semiconductor process, a thousand things can go wrong,” he says. “Somehow I was just lucky.”

In 2000, Dvorak achieved a speed of 305 gigahertz, then the fastest bipolar transistor ever created in any semiconductor material. IBM later surpassed it and holds the current record of 375 gigahertz.

Dvorak says that for some high power and high frequency applications, the usual silicon transistor is not adequate. His alternative to silicon is a carefully designed semiconductor sandwich. The combination of layers allows relatively high densities of electrons to flow quickly at high voltages.

Since the structures remain small, electrons don't have far to travel, so Dvorak's transistor can simultaneously operate at high frequencies and high voltages. The approach was suggested by his supervisor, Colombo Bolognesi, who recruited Dvorak in 1995 as the first student in his newly established research lab at SFU.

The NSERC doctoral prize recognizes excellence in student research in the natural sciences and engineering.

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