Smaller chips? Just add water

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) are refining a method that uses the current generation of chip-making tools to produce smaller chips than previously thought possible with those tools. The key ingredient happens to be one of the most commonly available substances on the planet.

By running a small stream of water across a silicon wafer as the circuit lines are being etched into the chip, the current generation of lithography tools can produce circuits down to the 45 nanometer level due to the refractive properties of water, said Bruce Smith, professor of microelectronics engineering and associate dean for graduate studies at RIT.

Lithography tools are used to draw the lines of a circuit on to a semiconductor wafer. The current generation of tools use wavelengths of light that measure 193 nanometers long to produce 90 nanometer chips such as Intel's Prescott Pentium 4 processor and IBM's PowerPC 970FX processor.

Microscopes have taken advantage of the refractive properties of liquids to improve the resolution of specimens for over 100 years, Smith said. A material's refractive property refers to its ability to bend light.

Oily liquids have been used in biological labs for this purpose, and many researchers have postulated that certain liquids could be used for the practice of immersion lithography, Smith said. Lithography is basically the reverse of microscopy, in that the idea is to take a large image and shrink it. However, the necessity for cleanliness in a semiconductor manufacturing environment eliminated many liquids from consideration, Smith said.

Water turned out to be an ideal liquid because it does not produce a reaction with many commonly used semiconductor manufacturing materials and liquids, and because its refractive properties peak at the same wavelengths currently used by etching tools in the manufacturing process, Smith said.

Most semiconductor researchers had thought that tools with smaller wavelengths were necessary to produce chips for the 65 nanometer process generation and below, Smith said. Each time the industry moves to a new lithography tool, it must go through an expensive and time-consuming process to ensure that the new tools will work with existing materials and to iron out any problems that arise.

Chip makers will need to invest in new tools that can deliver the water in a steady stream and purification systems to ensure the water does not contaminate the silicon wafer, said Peter Silverman, an Intel fellow and director of lithography capital equipment at the company. But they will still be able to use the same generation of lasers and optical equipment, he said.

Several challenges remain, such as the necessity to eliminate defects in the manufacturing process, said Michael Lercel, manager of the advanced imaging department at IBM. At this point, there simply isn't enough data about immersion lithography to know exactly what needs to be done to take this technique out of the lab and into manufacturing plants, he said.

Intel and IBM are waiting for immersion lithography research tools due out by the end of this year from vendors such as Nikon Precision, Canon Inc., and ASML Lithography Holding, both researchers said. The companies will be able to conduct experiments with immersion lithography during the first part of 2005, and decide if and how it will fit into their future manufacturing plans.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tom Krazit

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?