According to UBS, 3.16 billion people cannot reach a healthcare facility by foot within an hour, with many battling with poverty and inaccessibility to resources. But what if people didn’t have to delay? What if they could use a microchip to diagnose, monitor and upload their data, which a doctor could digitally survey?
That’s the form of reality that the semiconductor company Archer Materials (ASX: AXE) hopes to create. It aims to transform disease detection with its lab-on-a-chip Biochip technology, and has recently validated its first-generation Biochip graphene field effect transistor (gFET) design. The validation was conducted through a multi-project wafer (MPW) run in partnership with a leading German foundry.
Archer calls it “bioelectronics” and they are building a new type of semiconductor device based on a single atom thick material, graphene, implemented as sensors that would act with other nano- and micro-fabricated components on a single chip to perform tests usually done in a medical centre. These Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) devices represent a disruptive field of development in medical diagnostics.
The Biochip device in development by Archer involves tiny sensors, called graphene field effect transistors (gFETs). The manufacture of the Company’s first-generation gFETs marks the first joint fabrication between Archer and an external foundry partner. Some of the semiconductor fabrication processes were performed in-house by the Company in Australia, emphasising its domestic capabilities and ‘know-how’ in an industry underpinned by the need to secure intellectual property.
CEO of Archer, Dr Mohammad Choucair, said, “Archer’s Biochip gFET device designs, including the first-generation and advanced designs for multiplexing, are now on their way towards foundry readiness, as they each have gone from design and into the development stages independently. Acting as a ‘lab-on-a-chip’, Archer’s Biochip would have the potential to detect multiple disease samples at once and provide powerful data analytics, which could contribute towards the disruptive, digital transformation occurring in the global medical diagnostics industry.”
In July 2023, the Company submitted the first generation gFET designs to a German commercial foundry for a Multi-Project wafer run. During the MPW process, Archer’s device design is applied to a section of a silicon wafer alongside other companies’ designs. It’s relatively quick and cost effective, and allows smaller industry players like Archer manufacture time in a supply-chain that is bottlenecked and dominated by major organisations like NVIDIA and Apple.
The gFETs manufactured by the MPW run were created on a 6-inch wafer and then cut into individual chips. The gFET devices have been tested by Archer and are functioning as expected, including the demonstration of ‘liquid gating’, which means the liquid being analysed cleverly forms part of the electronic device and so doesn’t cause it to short circuit.
This development comes on the heels of Archer’s earlier announcement, where it successfully validated its Biochip gFET designs for multiplexing, i.e. detecting multiple signals from liquid samples at once. These gFETs were produced using a complete four-inch wafer run by a commercial foundry partner in the Netherlands.
Both the MPW and the whole wafer gFET fabrication processes align with Archer’s efforts to ensure the scalability of its chip designs for producing Biochip graphene devices.
The outcomes of these tests will help Archer determine which foundries work best with its technology. The gFET devices were created by Archer’s team. Archer is in talks with its commercial foundry partners to secure manufacturing for future semiconductor products and keep advancing its Biochip technology, including additional device design checks.
Archer is edging into the foundry ‘readiness’ stage to validate the move from lab-to-fab for its Biochip technology. With access to over $1 billion worth of deep-tech infrastructure and facilities, the Company is set to make great movies in FY24.
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