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Radiation damage bigger problem in microelectronics than previously thought
Date:7/20/2012

The amount of structural damage that radiation causes in electronic materials at the atomic level may be at least ten times greater than previously thought.

That is the surprising result of a new characterization method that uses a combination of lasers and acoustic waves to provide scientists with a capability tantamount to X-ray vision: It allows them to peer through solid materials to pinpoint the size and location of detects buried deep inside with unprecedented precision.

The research, which was conducted by post-doctoral fellow Andrew Steigerwald under the supervision of Physics Professor Norman Tolk, was published online on July 19 in the Journal of Applied Physics.

"The ability to accurately measure the defects in electronic materials becomes increasingly important as the size of microelectronic devices continues to shrink," Tolk explained. "When an individual transistor contains millions of atoms, it can absorb quite a bit of damage before it fails. But when a transistor contains a few thousand atoms, a single defect can cause it to stop working."

Previous methods used to study damage in electronic materials have been limited to looking at defects and deformations in the atomic lattice. The new method is the first that is capable of detecting disruption in the positions of the electrons that are attached to the atoms. This is particularly important because it is the behavior of the electrons that determine a material's electrical and optical properties.

"An analogy is a thousand people floating in a swimming pool. The people represent the atoms and the water represents the electrons," said Steigerwald. "If another person representing an energetic particle jumps into the pool, the people in his vicinity change their positions slightly to make room for him. However, these shifts can be fairly subtle and difficult to measure. But the jumper will also cause quite a splash and cause the level of the water in
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Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert

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