SiOnyx is working on the commercialization of black silicon, a new type of silicon that was discovered by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur in the late 1990s. Black silicon offers a 100 to 500 times increase in sensitivity to light compared to conventional silicon detectors and could deliver huge improvements in solar cells and electronics devices such as digital cameras and video cameras.
The discovery of black silicon was made when a very powerful laser was shined on a silicon wafer with sulfur hexafluoride applied to it. The New York Times reports that the laser used in the discovery was able to briefly match the energy produced by the sun falling on the entire surface of the earth.
After the laser was shone on the wafer -- which looked black to the naked eye -- it was examined under an electron microscope. Under the microscope, the wafer was found to be covered with microscopic spikes.
Black silicon was later found to have extreme sensitivity to light and is on the verge of commercialization for use in night vision systems. James Carey, co-founder of SiOnyx, said, "We have seen a 100 to 500 times increase in sensitivity to light compared to conventional silicon detectors."
The material is also able to detect infrared light that is invisible to the current generation of silicon detectors. Black silicon is already being integrated into sensor-based chips. One huge advantage of black silicon is that its manufacturing process is compatible with the processes currently used in silicon wafer manufacturing.