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SPIE Photomask Technology Wrap-up

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography was a leading topic at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference and exhibition, held September 16-17-18 in Monterey, Calif., yet it wasn’t the only topic discussed and examined. Mask patterning, materials and process, metrology, and simulation, optical proximity correction (OPC), and mask data preparation were extensively covered in conference sessions and poster presentations.

Even with the wide variety of topics on offer at the Monterey Conference Center, many discussions circled back to EUV lithography. After years of its being hailed as the “magic bullet” in semiconductor manufacturing, industry executives and engineers are concerned that the technology will have a limited window of usefulness. Its continued delays have led some to write it off for the 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer process nodes.

EUV photomasks were the subject of three conference sessions and the focus of seven posters. There were four posters devoted to photomask inspection, an area of increasing concern as detecting and locating defects in a mask gets more difficult with existing technology.

The conference opened Tuesday, Sept. 16, with the keynote presentation by Martin van den Brink, the president and chief technology officer of ASML Holding. His talk, titled “Many Ways to Shrink: The Right Moves to 10 Nanometer and Beyond,” was clearly meant to provide some reassurance to the attendees that progress is being made with EUV.

He reported his company’s “30 percent improvement in overlay and focus” with its EUV systems in development. ASML has shipped six EUV systems to companies participating in the technology’s development (presumably including Intel, Samsung Electronics, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, which have made equity investments in ASML), and it has five more being integrated at present, van den Brink said.

The light source being developed by ASML’s Cymer subsidiary has achieved an output of 77 watts, he said, and the company expects to raise that to 81 watts by the end of 2014. The key figure, however, remains 100 watts, which would enable the volume production of 1,000 wafers per day. No timeline on that goal was offered.

The ASML executive predicted that chips with 10nm features would mostly be fabricated with immersion lithography systems, with EUV handling the most critical layers. For 7nm chips, immersion lithography systems will need 34 steps to complete the patterning of the chip design, van den Brink said. At that process node, EUV will need only nine lithography steps to get the job done, he added.

Among other advances, EUV will require actinic mask inspection tools, according to van den Brink. Other speakers at the conference stressed this future requirement, while emphasizing that it is several years away in implementation.

Mask making is moving from detecting microscopic defects to an era of mesoscopic defects, according to Yalin Xiong of KLA-Tencor. Speaking during the “Mask Complexity: How to Solve the Issues?” panel discussion on Thursday, Sept. 18, Xiong said actinic mask inspection will be “available only later, and it’s going to be costly.” He predicted actinic tools will emerge by 2017 or 2018. “We think the right solution is the actinic solution,” Xiong concluded.

Peter Buck of Mentor Graphics, another panelist at the Sept. 18 session, said it was necessary to embrace mask complexity in the years to come. “Directed self-assembly has the same constraints as EUV and DUV (deep-ultraviolet),” he observed.

People in the semiconductor industry place high values on “good,” “fast,” and “cheap,” Buck noted. With the advent of EUV lithography and its accompanying challenges, one of those attributes will have to give way, he said, indicating cheapness was the likely victim.

Mask proximity correction (MPC) and Manhattanization will take on increasing importance, Buck predicted. “MPC methods can satisfy these complexities,” he said.

For all the concern about EUV and the ongoing work with that technology, the panelists looked ahead to the time when electron-beam lithography systems with multiple beams will become the litho workhorses of the future.

Mask-writing times were an issue touched upon by several panelists. Shusuke Yoshitake of NuFlare Technology reported hearing about a photomask design that took 60 hours to write. An extreme example, to be sure, but next-generation multi-beam mask writers will help on that front, he said.

Daniel Chalom of IMS Nanofabrication said that with 20nm chips, the current challenge is reduce mask-writing times to less than 15 hours.

In short, presenters at the SPIE conference were optimistic and positive about facing the many challenges in photomask design, manufacturing, inspection, metrology, and use. They are confident that the technical hurdles can be overcome in time, as they have in the past.

Research Alert: March 18, 2014

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Creating a graphene-metal sandwich to improve electronics

Researchers have discovered that creating a graphene-copper-graphene “sandwich” strongly enhances the heat conducting properties of copper, a discovery that could further help in the downscaling of electronics.

The work was led by Alexander A. Balandin, a professor of electrical engineering at the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside and Konstantin S. Novoselov, a professor of physics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Balandin and Novoselov are corresponding authors for the paper just published in the journal Nano Letters. In 2010, Novoselov shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Andre Geim for their discovery of graphene.

In the experiments, the researchers found that adding a layer of graphene, a one-atom thick material with highly desirable electrical, thermal and mechanical properties, on each side of a copper film increased heat conducting properties up to 24 percent.

“This enhancement of copper’s ability to conduct heat could become important in the development of hybrid copper — graphene interconnects for electronic chips that continue to get smaller and smaller,” said Balandin, who in 2013 was awarded the MRS Medal from the Materials Research Society for discovery of unusual heat conduction properties of graphene.

Whether the heat conducting properties of copper would improve by layering it with graphene is an important question because copper is the material used for semiconductor interconnects in modern computer chips. Copper replaced aluminum because of its better electrical conductivity.

Surface characteristics influence cellular growth on semiconductor material

Changing the texture and surface characteristics of a semiconductor material at the nanoscale can influence the way that neural cells grow on the material.

The finding stems from a study performed by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Purdue University, and may have utility for developing future neural implants.

“We wanted to know how a material’s texture and structure can influence cell adhesion and differentiation,” says Lauren Bain, lead author of a paper describing the work and a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill. “Basically, we wanted to know if changing the physical characteristics on the surface of a semiconductor could make it easier for an implant to be integrated into neural tissue – or soft tissue generally.”

The researchers worked with gallium nitride (GaN), because it is one of the most promising semiconductor materials for use in biomedical applications. They also worked with PC12 cells, which are model cells used to mimic the behavior of neurons in lab experiments.

In the study, the researchers grew PC12 cells on GaN squares with four different surface characteristics: some squares were smooth; some had parallel grooves (resembling an irregular corduroy pattern); some were randomly textured (resembling a nanoscale mountain range); and some were covered with nanowires (resembling a nanoscale bed of nails).

Very few PC12 cells adhered to the smooth surface. And those that did adhere grew normally, forming long, narrow extensions. More PC12 cells adhered to the squares with parallel grooves, and these cells also grew normally.

About the same number of PC12 cells adhered to the randomly textured squares as adhered to the parallel grooves. However, these cells did not grow normally. Instead of forming narrow extensions, the cells flattened and spread across the GaN surface in all directions.

More PC12 cells adhered to the nanowire squares than to any of the other surfaces, but only 50 percent of the cells grew normally. The other 50 percent spread in all directions, like the cells on the randomly textured surfaces.

“This tells us that the actual shape of the surface characteristics influences the behavior of the cells,” Bain says. “It’s a non-chemical way of influencing the interaction between the material and the body. That’s something we can explore as we continue working to develop new biomedical technologies.”

First methodology to analyze nanometer line pattern images

In the study, the researchers grew PC12 cells on GaN squares with four different surface characteristics: some squares were smooth; some had parallel grooves (resembling an irregular corduroy pattern); some were randomly textured (resembling a nanoscale mountain range); and some were covered with nanowires (resembling a nanoscale bed of nails).

Very few PC12 cells adhered to the smooth surface. And those that did adhere grew normally, forming long, narrow extensions. More PC12 cells adhered to the squares with parallel grooves, and these cells also grew normally.

About the same number of PC12 cells adhered to the randomly textured squares as adhered to the parallel grooves. However, these cells did not grow normally. Instead of forming narrow extensions, the cells flattened and spread across the GaN surface in all directions.

More PC12 cells adhered to the nanowire squares than to any of the other surfaces, but only 50 percent of the cells grew normally. The other 50 percent spread in all directions, like the cells on the randomly textured surfaces.

“This tells us that the actual shape of the surface characteristics influences the behavior of the cells,” Bain says. “It’s a non-chemical way of influencing the interaction between the material and the body. That’s something we can explore as we continue working to develop new biomedical technologies.”