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Joseph L. Cecchi, Ph.D.

cecchi-spotlightJoseph L. Cecchi, Ph.D.
Dean, School of Engineering
Associate Provost, National Laboratory Relations
Professor, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering
Vice Chair of the Board, STC.UNM
The University of New Mexico

Dr. Cecchi has disclosed four inventions to STC, received three UNM-affiliated issued U. S. patents, and has two pending patent applications for his atomic layer deposition (ALD) and enzymatic gas permeable membrane technologies.

Dr. Cecchi’s ALD technology consists of two parts: a low-k dielectric material for integrated circuit (IC) fabrication and high-throughput membranes. As device dimensions in ICs continue to shrink, low dielectric constant (low-k) materials are needed as inter-level dielectrics (ILD) to increasing RC-delay. Nanoporous materials are the most promising low-k solutions. Using ALD, this part of the invention uses a novel plasma- activated (PA) step to develop a thin cap layer (silica) that seals the pores of the nanoporous film. This PA-ALD process deposits only on the surface—not in the pores—thus having a negligible impact on k. Moreover, the ALD-sealing coating is conformal to the 3D topology of patterned ILD films.

Another innovative application of the invention uses ALD and mesoporous silica for making supported organic/inorganic hybrid thin-film membranes by successive surface activation and reaction. These membranes retain the advantage of ALD thin films, but increase the range of materials used and therefore the applications. Through careful selection of the hybrid ALD precursors, the surface pore size can be precisely controlled, a feature that enables a wide variety of membrane applications for chemical/biological separations. The technology can be used for gas separation (hydrogen purification), water purification, ion/proton conduction (fuel-cell membranes), sensors, semiconductors, integrated circuits, and energy conversions.

Dr. Cecchi’s enzymatic gas permeable membrane technology is an ultra-thin, enzymatically active membrane that combines high CO2 permeability, high CO2 selectivity, and low fabrication costs, resulting in the first cost-effective technology for CO2 separation and purification. If the membrane were embedded in a large-scale format, a savings of 62 percent in the cost of electricity generated by coal-fired power plants is projected relative to conventional technology. The new technology is forecast to save the U.S. coal industry alone $90B per year for electricity generation compared with best-in-class CO2 capture technology. The membrane is also highly adaptable. It can be optimized for fast, selective transport of other chemical species by embedding different enzymes. An example is methane mono-oxygenase, which converts methane gas to the more soluble methanol.

Dr. Cecchi’s research focuses on fabrication at the nanoscale. He has worked extensively in semiconductor manufacturing, particularly plasma etching, plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition, and chemical mechanical planarization (CMP). Current interests include nanotechnology and microsystems.

Issued U.S. Patents (UNM-affiliated)

7,947,579, Method of Making Dense, Conformal, Ultra-Thin Cap Layers for Nanoporous Low-k ILD by Plasma-Assisted Atomic Layer Deposition, issued May 24, 2011
8,187,678, Ultra-Thin Microporous/Hybrid Materials, issued May 29, 2012
Received Notice of Allowance as of date of publication: Enzymatically Active High-Flux Selectively Gas-Permeable Membranes, to be issued in 2016

Pending Patent Applications

Method of Making Dense, Conformal, Ultra-Thin Cap Layers for Nanoporous Low-K ILD by Plasma-Assisted Atomic Layer Deposition
Method for Atomic Layer Deposition