29 Jun 2012
Plasma startup creates high-energy light to make smaller microchips
University of Washington engineers have launched a startup, Zplasma, that aims to produce the high-energy light needed to etch the next generation of microchips.
"In order to get smaller feature sizes on silicon, the industry has to go to shorter wavelengths," said Uri Shumlak, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “We’re able to produce that light with enough power that it can be used to manufacture microchips.”
The UW beam is said to last up to 1,000 times longer than competing technologies and provides more control over the million-degree plasma that produces the light.
"Over the past decade, the primary issue with extreme ultraviolet light sources is they just can't produce enough power," Shumlak said. "It's a stumbling block for the whole semiconductor industry."
The UW group's specialty is a lower-cost version of a fusion reactor that uses currents flowing through the material, rather than giant magnets, to contain the million-degree plasma. Their method also produces plasma that is stable and long-lived.
"It's a completely different way to make the plasma that gives you much more control," said Brian Nelson, a UW research associate professor of electrical engineering.
Light produced through more conventional techniques, now being considered by the chip industry, generate a spark that lasts just 20 to 50 nanoseconds. Zplasma's light beam lasts 20 to 50 millionths of a second, about 1,000 times longer.
"That translates directly into more light output, more power depositing on the wafer, such that you can move it through in some reasonable amount of time," Shumlak said.
An initial grant from the UW's Center for Commercialization allowed the team to verify that it could produce 13.5nm light. Funding from the Washington Research Foundation also helped the team shrink the equipment from the size of a broomstick to a new version the size of a pin, which can produce a sharp beam.
"I hope this gets implemented into the industry and has an impact," Shumlak said.
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