Interview: Leti Is the Moving Force Behind FD-SOI. CEO Marie Semeria Explains the Strategy (part 1 of 2)

From wafers to apps, Leti has been the moving force behind all things SOI for over 30 years. Now they’re the powerhouse behind the FD-SOI phenomenon. CEO Marie Semeria shares her insights here in part 1 of this exclusive ASN interview as to what makes Leti tick. In part 2, we’ll talk about Leti’s new projects and partnerships.

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Advanced Substrate News (ASN): You’ve been CEO of Leti for a little over a year now, but those outside the Grenoble ecosystem are just getting to know you. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to Leti?

Marie Semaria, CEO, CEA-Leti

Marie Semeria (MS): My background is in physics. I did my PhD at Leti on magnetic memories. Then I joined Sagem in the framework of a technology transfer, followed by a start-up in field-emission display (FED). When I came back to Leti, I spent more than 15 years in different positions, mainly involved in microelectronics. This work included setting up the cooperation with the IBM alliance and technology program coordination, as well as preparing Leti’s future and setting up long-term projects and partnerships.

Then three years ago the CEO at CEA Tech asked me to join that organization. CEA Tech is the technology research unit of the CEA (the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission). Leti is one of CEA Tech’s three institutes, which together are developing a broad portfolio of technologies for information/communications technologies, energy, and healthcare. So I extended what I did in Leti covering the whole domain of expertise of CEA Tech. Finally, in October 2014, I took over from outgoing Leti CEO Laurent Malier.

ASN: Can you tell us about Leti’s structure and budget? How are you different from the other big European research organizations?

MS: Leti is a leading-edge research institute. Our mission is to innovate: with industry, for industry. So 83% of our budget comes from partnerships funded by industry, or partially funded by industry and supported by the European Commission or local or national authorities. The other 17% is a grant from CEA. Our commitment is to create value. And so the business model of Leti is value-centric – value for its partners.

ASN: How do you decide what you’re going to work on? Is it your customers?

MS: Leti focuses its work on technological research. We are not an academic lab. We work closely with industry. So we share our roadmap with our industrial partners, which gives us feedback on their expectations, their visions, and helps us anticipate their needs.

Leti is located in the heart of the Minatec innovation campus in Grenoble. Minatec was founded by CEA Grenoble, INPG (Grenoble Institute of Technology) and local government agencies. The project combines a physical research campus with a network of companies, researchers and engineering schools. As such, Minatec is home to 2,400 researchers, 1,200 students, and 600 business and technology transfer experts on a 20-hectare (about 50-acre) state-of-the-art campus with 10,000 m² of clean room space. An international hub for micro and nanotechnology research, the campus is unlike any other R&D facility in Europe. (Photo: courtesy Minatec)

On another side, we have to be innovative ourselves, so we are very open to what is going on in the scientific world, sensing new trends, analyzing migrations, monitoring the emergence of new concepts. Therefore, part of Leti’s research is fed by partnerships with academic labs. And there are great opportunities to work with two divisions of CEA related to fundamental research in materials science and in life science. We have a partnership with Caltech in NEMS. We have partnerships with MIT, and with Berkeley in FD-SOI design. It is key for Leti to build on the relationships with the world’s leading international technological universities. We’re fully involved with the very active Grenoble ecosystem. There are great leveraging opportunities within MINATEC and MINALOGIC, with Grenoble-Alpes University and with the INPG engineering school in math and physics. The cooperation with the researchers at LTM is key in microelectronics and we will work with new teams at INRIA who will join us in the new software and design center located in MINATEC.

ASN: How much Leti activity is based on SOI?

MS: SOI is the differentiator for Leti in nanoelectronics. We pioneered the technology 30 years ago and boosted the diffusion and the adoption of the technology worldwide. This year we launched a new initiative named Silicon Impulse together with our partners ST, CMP, and Dolphin…to provide access to the FD-SOI technology and IP to designers. I would say about 50% of the resources of Leti is related to nano: nanoelectronics, nanosystems, nanopower, 3D integration, packaging, with silicon at the core.

All that we have developed in terms of CMOS, embedded memory, RF, photonics and MEMS, is based on SOI. So we’ve developed a complete, fully-depleted (FD) SOI platform for the Internet of Things, because you’ll need all these functions. Really, all the microelectronics activity of Leti has been based on SOI for a while now. It’s why today we continue to pioneer the technology. For example, we develop the substrates and we assess their performance with Soitec in the framework of a joint lab, which is a new strategy for both of us. We work with ST, with GlobalFoundries, to transfer the technology, to prove the substrate in their products. Now we are in a key position as a leading, innovating institute to turn our disruptive technology into products. So it’s really a turning point for us.

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Here’s a quick “official” summary of Leti:

As one of three advanced-research institutes within the CEA Technological Research Division, CEA Tech-Leti serves as a bridge between basic research and production of micro- and nanotechnologies that improve the lives of people around the world. It is committed to creating innovation and transferring it to industry. Backed by its portfolio of 2,800 patents, Leti partners with large industrials, SMEs and startups to tailor advanced solutions that strengthen their competitive positions. It has launched 54 startups. Its 8,500m² of new-generation cleanroom space feature 200mm and 300mm wafer processing of micro and nano solutions for applications ranging from space to smart devices. With a staff of more than 1,800, Leti is based in Grenoble, France, and has offices in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Tokyo. Learn more at Follow them on Twitter @CEA_Leti and on LinkedIn.

Click here to read part 2 of this exclusive interview.

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