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Past Winner
2004 NSERC Award of Excellence

André Salama

Scientific Director, Micronet R&D

University of Toronto


For the past 35 years Dr. André Salama has been relentlessly shrinking his world. And ours. Circuit by circuit he has squeezed more performance out of tinier and tinier bits of silicon, the building blocks of microelectronic technology. Today, the fruits of his success – pocket-sized cell phones, portable computers and biomedical instrumentation systems – shape the texture of our daily techno-lives.

"Since I started in the early 1960s, the microelectronics world has changed very dramatically. We have shrunk the dimensions of components by three orders of magnitude and increased the density and functionality of microchips tremendously," says Dr. Salama, one of three nominees for the prestigious 2004 NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

These reductions in size and cost made possible a world of computers and communications technologies that are portable, personal and practical.

It's a revolution that Dr. Salama has helped fuel. On arriving at the University of Toronto in 1967, fresh from his training at the University of British Columbia, he set about helping to launch the modern era of research in semiconductor devices and integrated circuits. By the 1980s the IT ferment was building in his dynamic lab more than a decade before it hit the NASDAQ.

Dr. Salama's discoveries, which have led to 17 patents, have been widely, almost wildly, applicable. The research is broadly defined as the design, fabrication and application of semiconductor devices and integrated circuits. These devices are the building blocks of today's commonly used communication, computer and instrumentation systems.

From the start, Professor Salama has worked closely with the microelectronics industry in Canada and internationally.

"I feel that the best way to get my work done is to interact with industry," says Dr. Salama. "I believe the interaction is really helpful in shaping the research objectives and making them more industrially relevant. And, as a result, a lot of the work has been put to practical use."

His low-voltage amplifiers enabled Canada's Gennum Corporation to create ear-canal sized hearing aids. In the 1990s, Nortel Networks produced millions of telecommunications chips based on high voltage devices created by Dr. Salama and his colleagues. He's also developed interface circuits marrying electronic and optical networks, and converters to transform analog signals into digital ones.

Dr. Salama was instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Microelectronics Corporation (CMC). Proposed in 1984 by an NSERC industry-university committee chaired by Dr. Salama, CMC has provided Canadian university researchers with microelectronics infrastructure support in the form of state-of-the art software, hardware and access to fabrication facilities which have been pivotal in the development of a strong Canadian presence in the field of microchip design.

As the R&D steam behind the IT revolution was building, Dr. Salama's personal passion for academic-industry partnership helped forge Micronet, a national network of university investigators focussing on precompetitive microelectronics research. Created in 1990 as a national Network of Centres of Excellence, Micronet – which now involves 20 universities and 49 companies – has enabled Canadian companies to capitalize on the IT boom by focussing research on industrially relevant objectives, training highly qualified personnel and providing necessary contacts between graduate students and the companies which eventually hire them.

While an ardent industry collaborator, Dr. Salama has also remained a keen academic.

"I like being my own boss," he says. "Micronet's research is based on a curiosity-driven approach, but it is oriented to the long-term needs of industry."

Now when Dr. Salama looks out to that silicon horizon, the world of small is hitting a nano-wall that scientists and engineers are scrambling to breach. Component dimensions are getting so small that designers are faced with the baffling reality that they must think about quantum-level effects.

"There really are a tremendous number of challenges if the technology is going to continue in terms of shrinking dimensions," says Dr. Salama.

But hearing this, one senses that Dr. Salama has been here before. And in the next breath he explains how his lab is using computational modelling, new materials and ultra-low level voltages to address the challenges of the coming generation of nanoelectronic technology.

Accomplishments

Dr. Salama is a pioneer in the Canadian microelectronics community. In 1990, he was a leader in the creation of Micronet, the national Network of Centres of Excellence that has pumped over $55 million into Canadian industry-university microelectronics R&D, and resulted in 12 spin-off companies. He is presently Micronet's Scientific Director. Dr. Salama was also the founding chairman of the Canadian Microelectronics Corporation (CMC), which provides essential technical infrastructure to more than 35 Canadian universities.

During the past four decades, Dr. Salama's University of Toronto lab has been a busy and internationally diverse place. It is a magnet for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from around the world. He has trained more than 30 doctoral and 85 master's students, most of whom now hold senior industry or academic positions in Canada and a half-dozen other countries. Since 1974 he has also welcomed more than 30 postdoctoral researchers into his lab from countries such as China, Denmark, France, India, Iran, Israel, Korea and the Ukraine.

Author of more than 320 refereed scientific publications, creator of a world-class lab, and deeply devoted to the development of the Canadian microelectronics community, Dr. Salama's contributions have been nationally and internationally recognized. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world's leading microelectronics association, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1994, he received the Killam Memorial Prize for outstanding contributions to microelectronics. In 2000, he received the IEEE Millennium Medal. In 2003, he was honoured with the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canadian Semiconductor Technology Conference for seminal contributions to semiconductor device research.

Background

Dr. Salama was born in Egypt in 1938. From 1957 to 1966, he earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of British Columbia. In 1963-64, he was a research assistant at the University of California at Berkeley, one of the leading centres for microchip research. In 1967, after almost two years as a researcher with Bell Northern Research (now Nortel) in Ottawa, Dr. Salama joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. In 1992, Dr. Salama was appointed to his current position of University Professor, one of only about 30 such positions at the U of T.