Berkeley -- Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, are reporting a new way of creating computer chips that could revitalize optical lithography, a patterning technique that dominates modern integrated circuits manufacturing.
By combining metal lenses that focus light through the excitation of electrons - or plasmons - on the lens' surface with a "flying head" that resembles the stylus on the arm of an old-fashioned LP turntable and is similar to those used in hard disk drives, the researchers were able to create line patterns only 80 nanometers wide at speeds up to 12 meters per second, with the potential for higher resolution detail in the near future.
"Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful," said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind this development. "This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today."
Zhang worked jointly on the project with David Bogy, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering. The study now appears online in Nature Nanotechnology, and is scheduled for the journal's December print issue.
The process of optical lithography shares some of the same principles as film photography, which creates pictures by exposing film in a camera to light, and then developing the film using chemical solutions. In the semiconductor industry, optical lithography is a process in which light is transferred through a mask with the desired circuit pattern onto a photosensitive material, or photoresist, that reacts chemically when exposed. The material then goes through a series of chemical baths to etch the circuit design onto a wafer.
"With optical lithography, or photolithography, you can instantly project a complex circuit design onto a silicon
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University of California - Berkeley