Silicon: The Material That Fueled Technological Revolutions

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Vanderbilt University Dean Philippe Fauchet Visits BU to join the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series

By Gabriella McNevin

Mechanical Engineering Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Alice White (left) and Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University, Professor Philippe Fauchet (right) paused for a photo after the lecture. White and Fauchet met while she was working at Bell Labs.
Mechanical Engineering Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Alice White (left) and Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University, Professor Philippe Fauchet (right) paused for a photo after the lecture. White and Fauchet met while she was working at Bell Labs.

“Aside from oxygen, silicon is the most abundant material on earth’s crust,” stated Professor Philippe Fauchet while speaking as part of the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series at Boston University.

On Wednesday, October 29th, Fauchet’s lecture audience sat waiting to learn how silicon has evolved in the last 20 years to become an almost universal material outside electronics. He answered their anticipation with a disclaimer.

“I will not cover the details of the extensive research. I will give a tour.”

Thus, Fauchet began a lecture, entitled ‘Nanoscale Silicon as an Optical Material,’ to share a big picture view of a wide-ranging subject. He provided an overview on the history of silicon research, and insight on how it may be practically applied for mass-market consumption. He reviewed properties of bulk silicon and techniques by which is may be exploited in research.

In the last 20 years, researchers have expanded and repurposed silicon for use in new industries. Professor Fauchet elaborated on breakthrough silicon biosensor technology that can lead to Ebola detection equipment. Early work was considered to be a success, but was not adapted for wide-use in the health care sector. Its detection capacity was not considered sensitive enough.

Currently, Professor Fauchet is working to advance research on silicon biosensors for the detection of viruses such as Ebola. Fauchet and his team are developing technology with increasing sensitivity, and the ability to concentrate affected Ebola viruses.

Professor Philippe Fauchet has been the Dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University since 2012. He has founded a successful startup, has over 400 publications, and is a Fellow of SPIE, OSA, IEEE, APS, and MRS.

Professor Fauchet concluded the 2014 Fall ECE Distinguished Lecture Series. The 2015 Spring ECE Distinguished Lecture Series will include Professor Ken Loparo (3/4), Professor Luke Lester (3/18), and Professor John Lach (4/1).