As microchips shrink, even tiny defects in the lines, dots and other shapes etched on them become major barriers to performance. Princeton engineers have now found a way to literally melt away such defects, using a process that could dramatically improve chip quality without increasing fabrication cost.
The method, published in the May 4 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, enables more precise shaping of microchip components than what is possible with current technology. More precise component shapes could help manufacturers build smaller and better microchips, the key to more powerful computers and other devices.
"We are able to achieve a precision and improvement far beyond what was previously thought achievable," said electrical engineer Stephen Chou, the Joseph C. Elgin Professor of Engineering, who developed the method along with graduate student Qiangfei Xia. Chou's lab has previously pioneered a number of innovative chip making techniques, including a revolutionary method for making nanometer-scale patterns using imprinting.
Microchips work best when the structures fabricated on them are straight, thin and tall. Rough edges and other defects can degrade or even ruin chip performance in most applications. In integrated circuits, for instance, such flaws could cause current to leak and voltage to fluctuate. In optic devices, they could interfere with the transmission of light. In biological devices, they could impede the flow of DNA and other biomaterials.
"These chip defects pose serious roadblocks to future advances in many industries," Chou said.
To deal with this problem, researchers try to improve the process used to make the microchips. However, Chou said such an approach works only to a point; eventually chip makers will run up against fundamental physical limits of current manufacturing techniques. In particular, the electrons and photons that are used like chisels to carve out the microscopic features on
|Contact: Steven Schultz|
Princeton University, Engineering School