Magazine article Science News

New Chip-Making Method May Mold the Industry. (Making A Little Impression)

Magazine article Science News

New Chip-Making Method May Mold the Industry. (Making A Little Impression)

Article excerpt

Microchip manufacture is horrendously complex. As designers cram more components onto minuscule patches of silicon, the enterprise just gets tougher--so much so that some industry savants worry that the march of miniaturization may end in just a few years (SN: 5/5/01, p. 286).

Now, researchers at Princeton University have demonstrated a new process for modifying silicon surfaces that may simplify chip manufacturing and reduce its costs.

The most time-consuming and expensive step in constructing microcircuits focuses a pattern of light onto a semiconductor surface coated with a photosensitive film (SN: 11/8/97 p. 302). The resulting image subsequently serves as a stencil that permits acids to etch away selected portions of the semiconductor surface. By alternately etching the surface and depositing new and different materials, manufacturers build multilayer components, including transistors.

The new approach, described in the June 20 Nature, would do away with the stencils and the optical paraphernalia that goes with them. Stephen Y. Chou, Chris Keimel, and Jian Gu have instead sculpted the silicon surface by pressing a sturdy mold of etched quartz against it. An ultraviolet laser shoots through the clear quartz into the underlying silicon, briefly melting the surface. The mold sinks slightly, embossing its pattern as the silicon resolidifies.

In today's chip-manufacturing plants, $10 million machines called steppers shift precisely from one position to the next across a silicon wafer, pausing briefly at each chip location to project the pattern for one level of a circuit-to-be (SN: 7/21/01, p. …

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