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Spotlight on Arutiun Ehiasarian

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Today's world is driven by technology innovations that let us travel around the world, communicate across the globe and discover new science. 

A lot of these advances are based on the development of new materials with special functions such as the ability to work at the high temperatures of a jet engine or the ability to be transparent and conducting for touch screens. Many of these materials are man made thin-films deposited by the process of physical vapour deposition (PVD), often a plasma-based process.

Professor Arutiun Ehiasarian started working with plasmas during his PhD at Sheffield Hallam University. At the time there were no facilities to do that so everything had to be built or setup from scratch - electrostatic probes, optical emission spectrometers, energy-resolved mass spectrometers were introduced into the lab.

These efforts paid off towards the end of the PhD project when Arutiun started developing a new PVD technology, High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS). Here he used plasma diagnostic techniques to discover metal ions in the source. He then deposited the first nitride coatings and showed they had a fully dense microstructure and very high adhesion. This effectively was the first step in establishing HIPIMS as a new technology for coating deposition - the first innovation in the field in 30 years.

HIPIMS became a focus of Arutiun's research during his senior research fellow and professorial careers. Starting out with a new PVD technology had two big challenges.

One was that academic circles had to be convinced of the scientific merits of a new technology against the decades of experience collected with existing technology. The second was that industrial partners had to see it as economically viable and reliable in a production environment.

The first challenge meant that the physics behind HIPIMS had to be understood and the second meant that the technology itself had to be made available to the wider public. These drives lead to a number of fundamental physics research projects financed by the EPSRC and the European Union, which opened collaborations with world-leading institutions such as University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (USA), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to understand the mechanisms behind HIPIMS and make it useful in production of a great variety of materials.

This resulted in more than 50 papers in refereed journals, 5 patents and a book chapter. His pioneering contributions to the scientific understanding of HIPIMS were acknowledged in 2010 by the Peter Mark Award of the American Vacuum Society.

The new technology also demanded a close involvement with industry and European Union financing enabled projects with Advanced Converters (now Huettinger Electronic) company and 10 partners to develop the first commercial grade HIPIMS power generator that could meet the demands of industrial production.

Arutiun was given the Huettinger Industrial Accolade for his contribution in bringing to market the first HIPIMS generator worldwide. The generator was an important step as it opened the possibility to make turn-key systems for HIPIMS coatings.

Together with the OC Oerlikon Balzers company, Arutiun developed the first tool for semiconductor wafer processing to drive the new through-silicon via process of metallisation of high-aspect ratio features. Partnering with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, he developed cryogenic materials for space satellite coolers. P&G Gillette have been a long-standing industrial research partner in the development of razor blades with enhanced lifetime.

An important aspect was also creating forums to discuss HIPIMS. Arutiun started special sessions and Hot Topic Sessions which are now a Technical Advisory Committee at the Annual Technical Conference of the Society of Vacuum Coaters (SVC) in USA.

Arutiin also started a HIPIMS session at the International Conference on Metallurgical Coatings and Thin Films organised by the American Vacuum Society.

Together with the Nanotechnology Centre for PVD Research and the Fraunhofer Institute for Thin Films (IST) he started the first International Conference on HIPIMS that brings together the leading academics and industrialists in the field to Sheffield and Braunschweig annually.

Arutiun is teaching two short courses at the SVC TechCon and has transferred technology to several companies, for which he has been granted the Mentor Award of the Society of Vacuum Coaters for contributions to the industrialisation of HIPIMS.

A very important milestone is the newly established Joint Sheffield Hallam University-Fraunhofer IST HIPIMS Research Centre in Sheffield, which Arutiun is directing. This partners two of the world's leading institutes in the field of HIPIMS to provide science-based industrial developments to market. The centre had its first long-term project granted in 2012 from the EPSRC to develop Photovoltaics with HIPIMS. It is already delivering industrial projects to companies since 2011 and is involved in the training of PhD students.

With HIPIMS and a new plasma PVD process Inductively Coupled Impulse Sputtering, Arutiun is looking into the future to continue his fundamental research, PhD student work and industrial partnerships to develop the exciting materials of the future.

The third edition of the International Conference on HIPIMS 2012 shall be hosted in Sheffield, 19 -20 June, For more information please visit the HIPIMS Conference website.

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