MIT develops method to draw finer features on chips

MIT researchers say denser features can be etched on chips by combining longer wavelengths of light

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have made a breakthrough with light technology that could eventually help chip makers create finer circuits.

The researchers have come up with a way to focus a beam of light on a scale far smaller than was previously possible, allowing chip makers to etch even tinier circuits onto their chips, said Rajesh Menon, a research engineer at MIT's department of electrical engineering and computer science.

Chip makers depend on light to draw circuit patterns on chips, but most of the techniques used today cannot produce patterns that are smaller than the wavelength of light itself.

The MIT researchers came up with a way to draw extremely narrow lines by combining beams of light at different wavelengths. They used so-called interference patterns, in which different wavelengths of light sometimes reinforce each other, and in other places cancel each other out.

They say the technique, which is still several years away from commercial use, could allow chip makers to build interconnects and transistors as narrow as a single molecule, or just two to three nanometers.

"If you make your transistors smaller, they typically work faster, you get more functionality," and the cost of manufacturing each chip goes down, Menon said.

Chip manufacturers like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are consistently building smaller and smaller transistors to get faster performance and use less power. They typically etch chip designs onto a glass material called a photomask, which is then used to replicate the pattern onto silicon wafers.

"What Intel does is pattern replication. You have a pattern and that is replicated" from a photomask straight onto the chips, Menon said. Intel's approach involves using electrons, while MIT's approach involves direct pattern creation via light sources, which it says can be more accurate and provide the flexibility to change designs quickly.

"If you do patterning with electron beams, you will always have to worry about accuracy. Your patterns could get slightly distorted, which could have a big impact on device performance. Photons will go where you tell them to go, whereas electrons won't at the nanoscale," Menon said.

While the researchers managed to produce lines 36 nanometers wide, Menon acknowledged that the technology could hit a wall when it gets down to the atomic scale. "The question then becomes -- can you make the molecule smaller? You're probably limited then," Menon said.

The technology could be commercialized in about five years through an MIT spin-off called Lumarray, according to Menon.

"It's a way's out as we have to solve some material and technical issues," he said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MIT

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >


Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on PC World

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?