IMEC Headquarters in Leuven, Belgium
|Industry||nanoelectronics, digital technologies|
|Genre||Independent research center|
|Founder||Roger Van Overstraeten|
Number of locations
|Taiwan, Japan, United States, China, Netherlands and India|
|Luc Van den hove (President and CEO)|
|Services||R&D, business incubation, IP licensing, prototyping, training, (...)|
|Revenue||535 million Euro (2018)|
Number of employees
Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) is an international research & development and innovation hub, active in the fields of nanoelectronics and digital technologies. Luc Van den hove has served as President and CEO since 2009.
IMEC employs around 4,000 researchers from more than 90 countries; it has numerous facilities dedicated to research and development around the world, including 12,000 square meters of cleanroom capacity for semiconductor processing. The IMEC headquarters are located in Leuven.
In 1982, the Flemish Government set up a program to strengthen the microelectronics industry in Flanders. This program included setting up a laboratory for advanced research in microelectronics (IMEC), a semiconductor foundry (former Alcatel Microelectronics, now STMicroelectronics and AMI Semiconductor, and a training program for VLSI design engineers. The latter is now fully integrated in the IMEC activities.
IMEC was founded in 1984 as a non-profit organization led by Prof. Roger Baron Van Overstraeten. The name IMEC is an acronym of the original full name: Interuniversitair Micro-Electronica Centrum VZW. It is supervised by a Board of Directors, which includes delegates from industry, Flemish universities and the Flemish Government. Since 1984, IMEC has been led by Roger Van Overstraeten, Gilbert Declerck (as of June 1999), and Luc Van den Hove (as of July 2009).
Merger with iMinds
In February 2016, it was announced that IMEC would be merging with the Flemish digital research center, iMinds. The goal was to strengthen Flanders’ international authority as a technology hub.
Luc Van den hove lead the merger between IMEC and digital research center iMinds in 2016, intending to combine IMEC’s background in developing cutting-edge chip technology with iMinds’ artificial intelligence and security expertise. Van den hove’s objective was "to turn IMEC into a unique and world-class research center to develop disruptive technologies and solutions[buzzword] in a broad range of application areas such as health, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, energy, education and infotainment." Van den hove also claimed that by combining iMinds’ expertise in software, A.I. and ICT with the miniaturization power of chip technology would allow IMEC to offer ‘total solutions’ to virtually every industrial market.
Philippe Muyters, the then Flemish Minister of Innovation, stated: “When [IMEC and iMinds] were founded, the line between hardware and software was still very clear. Today, and especially in the future, this line is increasingly blurring – with technology, systems and applications being developed in close conjunction. The merger anticipates this trend and creates a high-tech research center for the digital economy that keeps Flanders on the world map.”
The merger was finalized on September 21, 2016.
The IMEC campus in Leuven, Belgium consists of 24,400m² of office space, laboratories, training facilities, technical support rooms, and 2 cleanrooms which run a semi-industrial operation (24/7). There is a 300mm cleanroom (450mm ready) that focuses on R&D towards (sub-)3 nm process technology and a 200mm cleanroom for R&D, development-on-demand, prototyping and low volume manufacturing on more-than-Moore technologies (sensors, actuators, and MEMS, NEMS etc.).
IMEC has, among others, a pilot line for silicon and organic solar cells, unique laboratories for bioelectronics research, and equipment for materials characterization and reliability testing. For research on technologies for the intuitive internet of things, IMEC has dedicated labs for sensor and imaging technologies, wireless connectivity.
IMEC’s research covers various aspects of nanoelectronics such as advanced semiconductor scaling, low power sensing and actuating, radar and radio technology, and digital technologies including data and security expertise and AI. By setting up local and global ecosystems of partners across a multitude of industries, IMEC creates technology solutions[buzzword] enabling innovation in various domains, such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, sustainable energy and smart education.
Among its fields of expertise, IMEC lists:
- Logic and memory chip scaling
- Image sensors and vision systems
- Silicon photonics
- Connected health solutions[buzzword]
- Sensor solutions[buzzword] for IoT
- Wireless IoT communication
- Radar sensing systems
- Solid state batteries
- Data science and data security
- Large-Area Electronics
- Life sciences
- Artificial intelligence
IMEC groups its work around smart mobility, smart health, smart industries, smart energy, smart cities, and smart education.
Advanced Semi-Conductor Scaling
IMEC is well-known for its expertise in shrinking circuitry to boost computing and memory power and for the applicability of nanotechnology in novel industries, extending Moore’s law. In 2015 The New York Times stated that IMEC has helped pioneer techniques to produce some of the world’s smallest and most sophisticated chips and the centre is considered to be a world-leader in nanoelectronics research. In 2018, IMEC’s CEO Luc van den hove claimed that IMEC’s research was present in virtually every modern-day chip.
Quantum Computing, Supercomputing and Exascale Computing
IMEC performs research on quantum computing, supercomputing and exascale computing. IMEC’s platform for CMOS processing is a unique basis for a quantum computer. It is one of the world’s most advanced platforms to scale CMOS technology beyond 5 nm technology.
In 2018, IMEC CEO Luc Van den hove declared he was working on the creation of a quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and supercomputing hub.
In 2019, IMEC reported it is working on a quantum cryptography program which aims to develop scalable, robust, and cost-effective quantum cryptographic systems secure against quantum-based threats, as research in quantum information science has indicated that large-scale quantum computers (when realized) will render most of today’s encryption techniques insecure.
IMEC performs research in smart energy, ranging from developing ways to actively and cost-effectively plan, deploy and manage smart grid networks up to improving the efficiency, production and storage cost of (solar) energy. Considerable advances have been made in solar cell and solid state battery technologies.
Together with KU Leuven, VITO, and UHasselt, IMEC set up a separate R&D hub to perform research into sustainable energy and intelligent energy systems. The project is named EnergyVille and employs 400 researchers whose work centers around six interdisciplinary domains: photovoltaics, electrical and thermal storage, power control and conversion, electrical and thermal networks, buildings and districts, strategies and markets.
In a 2017 report, The Financial Times named IMEC’s self-learning neuromorphic chip one of the fifty ideas that will change the world and was described by the newspaper as having the potential to revolutionize computing.
In 2017, the Flemish government commissioned IMEC to support the 13 leading Flemish cities and the Flemish community in Brussels in their transition to becoming smart cities. IMEC was also commissioned by the Flemish government and the City of Antwerp to create Europe’s largest lab for Internet of Things applications.
Image Sensors and Vision Systems
IMEC works on developing advanced image sensors and vision systems. It claims to have unique expertise in the development of CMOS and photonics-based image sensors and integrated imaging vision systems with beyond standard solutions.[buzzword] Its research domains include industrial inspection, aerial photogrammetry, security, spectroscopy, medical fluorescence and astronomy.
In 2019, the state of Florida declared a partnership with IMEC to develop hyperspectral technology that is able to better detect invasive Burmese and rock pythons, which have been permanently damaging the Everglades’ eco-systems.
In recent years, IMEC has expanded its activity into domains where researchers typically do not have processor expertise . One such area is the life sciences, where nanotechnology, supercomputers and machine learning are used to innovate blood tests, DNA sequencing, health monitoring and drug discovery.
In 2016, when the merger between iMinds and IMEC was completed, Van den hove announced that one of IMEC’s top goals would be the advancement of the life sciences by combining biological research with chip technology and artificial intelligence. By doing so, Van den hove claimed he would drive scientific research on brain and neurodegenerative diseases whilst providing solutions for more effective diagnosis and treatments of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
IMEC uses supercomputing to accelerate the processing of entire genome sequences and to examine the use of computer simulations in its life sciences research. In 2019, IMEC stated that it created a unique platform that can perform a full genome analysis of 48 samples in only 48 hours and at an acceptable cost. The platform was reported to pave the way to genome sequencing as a daily practice in hospitals, for diagnosing and treating genetic diseases, including cancer and rare diseases, and for better treating newborns with complex disorders.
In 2017, IMEC designed and fabricated the world’s first miniature neural probe for simultaneous recording of multiple brain regions at neuronal resolution. The project was a collaboration with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, the Wellcome Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and University College of London. The performance of the Neuropixels probes and their potential for transformational neuroscience experiments was described in a November 9, 2017 paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. In 2019, The New York Times reported that IMEC's neuropixel technology is widely recognized as the most advanced method of gathering data from brain cells and Nobel prize winner John O'Keefe called the technology a giant step forwards for systems neuroscience.
In 2018, IMEC announced the creation of a research venture together with KU Leuven, UZ Leuven and VIB, called Mission Lucidity. The venture’s aim is to decode dementia. IMEC is creating human-specific living brain models, so called 'brains-on-chips’ which automate and miniaturize human stem cell manipulations, and developing technology to generate programmable, instrumented 3D brain models with single-cell precision. The project was supported by a Collaborative Science Award of one million dollars by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Lab-On-Chip (NASA, Johns Hopkins University & miDiagnostics)
At the end of May 2015, IMEC and Johns Hopkins University announced the launch of a joint venture, miDiagnostics, which aimed at developing medical chips and diagnostic devices that will assist doctors and patients in getting quick diagnoses. Peter Peumans, in charge of IMEC’s life science technologies program, helped found miDiagnostics and was appointed CTO. In 2019, NASA awarded funding to miDiagnostics to test a technology for monitoring astronauts’ health status under zero gravity conditions, with the aim of advancing space health diagnostics.
IMEC develops wearable devices and other health monitoring technologies, such as EEG electrodes, implantable devices, and ingestible sensors. Its technologies have gained several approvals by regulatory agencies such as the FDA and PMDA and have made contributions to studies published in Nature .
The clinical areas of IMEC’s monitoring technologies include: gait analysis, neurotechnology, ophthalmology, sleep monitoring technology, vital sign monitoring, and technology for respiratory care.
Through its spinoff Bloomlife IMEC develops pregnancy monitoring technology that tracks fetal health and fetal mobility , with the aim of giving pregnant women and their doctors better access to key details about fetal development.
Other applications include ingestible gut sensors designed to capture mechanical, electrical, and chemical changes that occur during digestion, flagging abnormalities and problems while also delivering personalized nutrition advice.
IMEC works with many different partners, ranging from governments and governmental agencies such as such as NASA and DARPA, to industrial partners such as ASML, Sony, Intel and Samsung and universities such as Johns Hopkins University. IMEC has a network of over 600 partner companies.
IMEC offers a business accelerator program, called imec.istart, through which it offers an initial financial injection (50,000 EUR pre-seed funding), professional coaching and mentoring, access to technology and working facilities, access to its network of partners and investors. Since its launch in 2011, imec.istart helped more than 198 tech start-ups in diverse fields, ranging from multimedia and logistics to the healthcare sector, to develop into sustainable ventures. In 2019, imec.istart was granted first place in the European ‘Top University Business Accelerators' ranking by UBI Global and was ranked fourth best in the world.
As underfunding remains the main cause of failure of hardware startups in Europe, IMEC CEO Luc Van den hove raised $117 million in 2018 for the creation of imec.xpand, a venture capital fund that invests in innovative semiconductor and hardware research spinouts and startups.
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