Ferric Semiconductor Inc.
Ken Shepard, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering

The electronics revolution of the last 30 years has been driven by what is known as Moore’s Law. Named after Intel founder Gordon Moore, it recognizes the industry trend of scaling the basic transistor of the complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit smaller and smaller, allowing more to be crammed onto chips at lower cost and higher performance. This has allowed smaller, cheaper, and lower-power microprocessors and communications chips that have enabled the plethora of mobile computing devices connecting to powerful cloud servers.

This same scaling, however, has not been possible for the power electronics responsible for providing energy to these devices, hindering progress in the design of these systems. Breaking this barrier with integrated power electronics is what Ferric Semiconductor Inc. is all about. Founded in 2012 by a team of engineers and materials scientists out of Columbia University, the company is positioned to enable a paradigm shift in the way power electronics is designed based on exploiting new CMOS technology enhancements pioneered by the company. Key to this is a new inductor technology that allows dense, efficient, on-chip energy storage.

“Ferric has developed intellectual property in the areas of both basic materials technology and circuit design that enables integrated, high-efficiency power conversion,” says Ken Shepard, professor of electrical engineering and of biomedical engineering, and technical adviser and chairman of Ferric Semiconductor.

“We developed integrated inductors in CMOS technology with precisely engineered laminations of high-permeability magnetic material,” he says. “Our custom process allows the magnetic materials to be deposited as part of normal CMOS fabrication, which drives down the cost of production.”

Processed silicon wafer showing fabricated inductor structures

This new class of integrated voltage regulators is expected to provide as much as 20 percent reduction in total power consumption for digital computing platforms, ranging from smart phones to data centers.

“We have recently closed our first round of private financing supplemented by government grants,” Shepard says. “We have some strategic manufacturing partnerships in place and some very promising customer engagements. Ferric has assembled a great team to move things forward.” Ferric’s founding team includes CTO Noah Sturcken, who recently earned his PhD at Columbia, and CEO Maurizio Arienzo, an industry veteran.

“This company is benefiting from the enormous technical talent of Noah Sturcken, with whom I was proud to work when he was a PhD student, and now is the driving force behind Ferric’s technology,” says Shepard. “He is an exceptionally talented engineer.”

Technology innovation aside, Shepard feels that one of the most valuable results to come from the company is the example it sets to current Columbia students.

“This company is visible proof that students can ride the risk-reward curve and take things they learn in their PhD programs to the next level,” he says. “It’s so easy for PhD students to just take a job with a company. It’s far more exciting for them to take their ideas into the marketplace with their own ventures.”