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Air-Gaps for FinFETs Shown at IEDM

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Researchers from IBM and Globalfoundries will report on the first use of “air-gaps” as part of the dielectric insulation around active gates of “10nm-node” finFETs at the upcoming International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) of the IEEE (ieee-iedm.org). Happening in San Francisco in early December, IEDM 2016 will again provide a forum for the world’s leading R&D teams to show off their latest-greatest devices, including 7nm-node finFETs by IBM/Globalfoundries/Samsung and by TSMC. Air-gaps reduce the dielectric capacitance that slows down ICs, so their integration into transistor structures leads to faster logic chips.

History of Airgaps – ILD and IPD

As this editor recently covered at SemiMD, in 1998, Ben Shieh—then a researcher at Stanford University and now a foundry interface for Apple Corp.—first published (Shieh, Saraswat & McVittie. IEEE Electron Dev. Lett., January 1998) on the use of controlled pitch design combined with CVD dielectrics to form “pinched-off keyholes” in cross-sections of inter-layer dielectrics (ILD).

In 2007, IBM researchers showed a way to use sacrificial dielectric layers as part of a subtractive process that allows air-gaps to be integrated into any existing dielectric structure. In an interview with this editor at that time, IBM Fellow Dan Edelstein explained, “we use lithography to etch a narrow channel down so it will cap off, then deliberated damage the dielectric and etch so it looks like a balloon. We get a big gap with a drop in capacitance and then a small slot that gets pinched off.

Intel presented on their integration of air-gaps into on-chip interconnects at IITC in 2010 but delayed use until the company’s 14nm-node reached production in 2014. 2D-NAND fabs have been using air-gaps as part of the inter-poly dielectric (IPD) for many years, so there is precedent for integration near the gate-stack.

Airgaps for finFETs

Now researchers from IBM and Globalfoundries will report in (IEDM Paper #17.1, “Air Spacer for 10nm FinFET CMOS and Beyond,” K. Cheng et al) on the first air-gaps used at the transistor level in logic. Figure 1 shows that for these “10nm-node” finFETs the dielectric spacing—including the air-gap and both sides of the dielectric liner—is about 10 nm. The liner needs to be ~2nm thin so that ~1nm of ultra-low-k sacrificial dielectric remains on either side of the ~5nm air-gap.

Fig.1: Schematic of partial air-gaps only above fin tops using dielectric liners to protect gate stacks during air-gap formation for 10nm finFET CMOS and beyond. (source: IEDM 2016, Paper#17.1, Fig.12)

These air-gaps reduced capacitance at the transistor level by as much as 25%, and in a ring oscillator test circuit by as much as 15%. The researchers say a partial integration scheme—where the air-gaps are formed only above the tops of fin— minimizes damage to the FinFET, as does the high-selectivity etching process used to fabricate them.

Figure 2 shows a cross-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of what can go wrong with etch-back air-gaps when all of the processes are not properly controlled. Because there are inherent process:design interactions needed to form repeatable air-gaps of desired shapes, this integration scheme should be extendable “beyond” the “10-nm node” to finFETs formed at tighter pitches. However, it seems likely that “5nm-node” logic FETs will use arrays of horizontal silicon nano-wires (NW), for which more complex air-gap integration schemes would seem to be needed.

Fig.2: TEM image of FinFET transistor damage—specifically, erosion of the fin and source-drain epitaxy—by improper etch-back of the air-gaps at 10nm dimensions. (source: IEDM 2016, Paper#17.1, Fig.10)

—E.K.



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3 Responses to “Air-Gaps for FinFETs Shown at IEDM”

  1. AK Says:

    Thanks for updating the headline picture, but your description of the second picture is still incorrect. Those opening in Fig 2 have nothing to do with the airgap. There is simply no contact in Fig 2. The dielectric you see is likely TEM decoration (as evident from dark liner that covers spacers and gate cap and otherwise will not be present. Those opening will not show up in real device. Even if present they will be etched away when contacts are formed.

  2. CW Says:

    To echo AK’s comment, the TEM in Fig. 2 is from another paper, and it is illustrating self-aligned contact, and the air-gap is likely an artifact due to TEM decoration.

    I suggest the editor include the original air spacer TEM from the air spacer paper mentioned in the 1st paragraph so the readers will be well informed of the actual air spacer structure.

    Thank you very much!

  3. Ed Korczynski Says:

    Thank you. The figure has been corrected.

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