"What we propose instead is a paradigm shift: Rather than struggle to improve fabrication methods, we could simply fix the defects after fabrication," said Chou. And fixing the defects could be automatic -- a process of self-perfection.
Chou's method, termed Self-Perfection by Liquefaction (SPEL), achieves this by melting the structures on a chip momentarily, and guiding the resulting flow of liquid so that it re-solidifies into the desired shapes. This is possible because natural forces acting on the molten structures, such as surface tension -- the force that allows some insects to walk on water -- smooth the structures into geometrically more accurate shapes. Lines, for instance, become straighter, and dots become rounder.
Simple melting by direct heating has previously been shown to smooth out the defects in plastic structures. This process can't be applied to a microchip, for two reasons. First, the key structures on a chip are not made of plastic, which melts at temperatures close to the boiling point of water, but from semiconductors and metals, which have much higher melting points. Heating the chip to such temperatures would melt not just the structures, but nearly everything else on the chip. Secondly, the melting process would widen the structures and round off their top and side surfaces, all of which would be detrimental to the chip.
Chou's team overcame the first obstacle by using a light pulse from so-called excimer laser, similar to those used in laser eye surgery, because it heats only a very thin surface layer of a material and causes no damage to the structures underneath. The researchers carefully designed the pulse so that it would melt only semiconductor and metal structures, and not damage other parts of the chip. The structures need to be melted for only a frac
|Contact: Steven Schultz|
Princeton University, Engineering School