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Technologies for Advanced Systems Shown at IMEC Tech Forum USA

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Luc Van den hove, president and CEO, imec opened the Imec Technology Forum – USA in San Francisco on July 13 by reminding us of the grand vision and motivation behind the work of our industry to empower individuals with micro- and nano-technologies in his talk, “From the happy few to the happy many.” While the imec consortium continues to lead the world in pure materials engineering and device exploration, they now work on systems-integration complexities with over 100 applications partners from agriculture, energy, healthcare, and transportation industries.

We are now living in an era where new chip technologies require trade-offs between power, performance, and bandwidth, and such trade-offs must be carefully explored for different applications spaces such as cloud clusters or sensor nodes. An Steegen, senior vice president process technology, imec, discussed the details of new CMOS chip extensions as well as post-CMOS device possibilities for different applications spaces in her presentation on “Technology innovation: an IoT era.” EUV lithography technology continues to be developed, targeting a single-exposure using 0.33 Numerical Aperture (NA) reflective lenses to pattern features as small as 18nm half-pitch, which would meet the Metal1 density specifications for the industry’s so-called “7nm node.” Patterning below 12nm half-pitch would seem to need higher-NA which is not an automatic extension of current EUV technology.

So while there is now some clarity regarding the pre-competitive process-technologies that will be needed to fabricate next-generation device, there is less clarity regarding which new device structures will best serve the needs of different electronics applications. CMOS finFETs using strained silicon-doped-with-Germanium Si(Ge) will eventually be replaced by gate-all-around (GAA) nano-wires (NW) using alternate-channel materials (ACM) with higher mobilities such as Ge and indium-gallium-arsenide (InGaAs). While many measures of CMOS performance improve with scaling to smaller dimensions, eventually leakage current and parasitic capacitances will impede further progress.

Figure 1 shows a summary of energy-vs.-delay analyses by imec for all manner of devices which could be used as switches in logic arrays. Spin-wave devices such as spin-transfer-torque RAM (STT-RAM) can run at low power consumption but are inherently slower than CMOS devices. Tunnel-FET (TFET) devices can be as fast or faster than CMOS while running at lower operating power due to reduced electrostatics, leading to promising R&D work.

Fig.1: Energy vs. delay for various logic switches. (Source: imec)

In an exclusive interview, Steegen explained how the consortium balances the needs of all partners in R&D, “When you try to predict future roadmaps you prefer to start from the mainstream. Trying to find the mainstream, so that customers can build derivatives from that, is what imec does. We’re getting closer to systems, and systems are reaching down to technology,” said Steegen. “We reach out to each other, while we continue to be experts in our own domains. If I’m inserting future memory into servers, the system architecture needs to change so we need to talk to the systems people. It’s a natural trend that has evolved.”

Network effects from “the cloud” and from future smart IoT nets require high-bandwidth and so improved electrical and optical connections at multiple levels are being explored at imec. Joris Van Campenhout, program director optical I/O, imec, discussed “Scaling the cloud using silicon photonics.” The challenge is how to build a 100Gb/s bandwidth in the near term, and then scale to 400G and then 1.6T though parallelism of wavelength division multiplexing; the best results to date for a transmitter and receiver reach 50Gb/s. By leveraging the existing CMOS manufacturing and 3-D assembly infrastructure, the hybrid CMOS silicon photonics platform enables high integration density and reduced power consumption, as well as high yield and low manufacturing cost. Supported by EDA tools including those from Mentor Graphics, there have been 7 tape-outs of devices in the last year using a Process Design Kit (PDK). When combined with laser sources and a 40nm node foundry CMOS chip, a complete integrated solution exists. Arrays of 50Gb/s structures can allow for 400Gb/s solutions by next year, and optical backplanes for server farms in another few years. However, to bring photonics closer to the chip in an optical interposer will require radical new new approaches to reduce costs, including integration of more efficient laser arrays.

Alexander Mityashin, project manager thin film electronics, imec, explained why we need, “thin film electronics for smart applications.” There are billions of items in our world that could be made smarter with electronics, provided we can use additive thin-film processes to make ultra-low-cost thin-film transistors (TFT) that fit different market demands. Using amorphous indium-gallium-zinc-oxide (a-IGZO) deposited at low-temperature as the active layer on a plastic substrate, imec has been able to produce >10k TFTs/cm2 using just 4-5 lithography masks. Figure 2 shows these TFT integrated into a near-field communications (NFC) chip as first disclosed at ISSCC earlier this year in the paper, “IGZO thin-film transistor based flexible NFC tags powered by commercial USB reader device at 13.56MHz.” Working with Panasonic in 2013, imec showed a flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display of just 0.15mm thickness that can be processed at 180°C. In collaboration with the Holst Center, they have worked on disposable flexible sensors that can adhere to human skin.

Fig.2: Thin-Film Transistors (TFT) fabricated on plastic using Flat Panel Display (FPD) manufacturing tools. (Source: imec/Holst Center)

Jim O’Neill, Chief Technology Officer of Entegris, expanded on the systems-level theme of the forum in his presentation on “Putting the pieces together – Materials innovation in a disruptive environment.” With so many additional materials being integrated into new device structures, there are inherently new yield-limiting defect mechanisms that will have to be controlled. With demand for chips now being driven primarily by high-volume consumer applications, the time between first commercial sample and HVM has compressed such that greater coordination is needed between device, equipment, and materials companies. For example, instead of developing a wet chemical formulation on a tool and then optimizing it with the right filter or dispense technology, the Process Engineer can start envisioning a “bottle-to-nozzle wetted surface solution.” By considering not just the intended reactions on the wafer but the unintended reactions that can occur up-steam and down-stream of the process chamber, full solutions to the semiconductor industry’s most challenging yield problems can be more quickly found.


Silicon Technology Extensions shown at MRS Spring 2015

Monday, June 1st, 2015

By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor, Solid State Technology/SemiMD

In the spring meeting of the Materials Research Society held recently in San Francisco, Symposium A: Emerging Silicon Science and Technology included presentations on controlling the structure of crystalline spheres and thin-films. Such structures could be used in future complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) devices and in photonic circuits built using silicon.

Alexander Gumennik, et al., from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented on “Extraordinary Stress in Silicon Spheres via Anomalous In-Fiber Expansion” as a way to control the bandgap of silicon and thus enable the use of silicon for photodetection at higher wavelengths. A silica fiber with a crystalline silicon core is fed through a flame yielding spherical silicon droplets via capillary instabilities. Upon cooling the spheres solidify and expand against the stiff silica cladding generating high stress conditions. Band gap shifts of 0.05 eV to the red (in Si) are observed, corresponding to internal stress levels. These stress levels exceed the surface stress as measured through birefringence measurements by an order of magnitude, thus hinting at a pressure-focusing mechanism. The effects of the solidification kinetics on the stress levels reached inside the spheres were explored, and the experimental results were found to be in agreement with a pressure-focusing mechanism arising from radial solidification of the spheres from the outer shell to the center. The simplicity of this approach presents compelling opportunities for the achievement of unusual phases and chemical reactions that would occur under high-pressure high-temperature conditions, which therefore opens up a pathway towards the realization of new in-fiber optoelectronic devices.

Fabio  Carta and others from Columbia University working with researchers from IBM showed results on “Excimer Laser Crystallization of Silicon Thin Films on Low-K Dielectrics for Monolithic 3D Integration.” This research supports the “Monolithic 3D” (M3D) approach to 3D CMOS integration as popularized by CEA-LETI, as opposed to the used of Through Silicon Vias (TSV). M3D requires processing temperature below 400°C if copper interconnects and low-k dielectric will be used in the bottom layer. Excimer laser crystallization (ELC) takes advantage of a short laser pulse to fully melt the amorphous silicon layer without allowing excessive time for the heat to spread throughout the structure, achieving large grain polycrystalline layer on top of temperature sensitive substrates. The team crystallized 100nm thick amorphous silicon layers on top of SiO2 and SiCOH (low-k) dielectrics. SEM micrographs show that post-ELC polycrystalline silicon is characterized by micron-long grains with an average width of 543 nm for the SiO2 sample and 570 nm for the low-k samples. A 1D simulation of the crystallization process on a back end of line structure shows that interconnect lines experience a maximum temperature lower than 70°C for the 0.5 μm dielectric, which makes ELC on low-k a viable pathway for achieving monolithic integration.

Seiji  Morisaki, et al., from Hiroshima Univ, showed results for “Micro-Thermal-Plasma-Jet Crystallization of Amorphous Silicon Strips and High-Speed Operation of CMOS Circuit.” The researchers used micro-thermal-plasma-jet (µ-TPJ) for zone melting recrystallization (ZMR) of amorphous silicon (a-Si) films to form lateral grains larger than 60 µm. By applying ZMR on a-Si strip patterns with widths <3 µm, single liquid-solid interfaces move inside the strips and formation of random grain boundaries (GBs) are significantly suppressed. Applying such strip patterns to active channels of thin-film-transistors (TFTs) results in a demonstrated field effect mobility (µFE) higher than 300 cm2/V*s because they contain minimal grain-boundaries. These a-Si strip pattern were then used to characteristic variability of n- and p-channel TFTs and CMOS ring oscillators. The strip patterns showed improved uniformities and defect densities, in general. A 9-stage ring oscillator fabricated with conventional TFTs had a maximum frequency (Fmax) of operation of 58 MHz under supply voltage (Vdd) of 5V which corresponds to a 1-stage delay (τ) of 0.94 ns, while strip channel TFTs demonstrated 108 MHz Fmax and τ decreased to 0.52 ns.

Ebrahim  Najafi, et al., from the California Institute of Technology, showed how “Ultrafast Imaging of Carrier Dynamics at the p-n Junction Interface” based on scanning ultrafast electron microscopy (SUEM) combines the spatial resolution of an electron probe with the temporal resolution of an optical pulse to enable unprecedented studies of carrier dynamics in spatially complex geometries. Observing the behavior of carriers in both space and time provides direct imaging of carrier excitation, transport, and recombination in the silicon p-n junction and the ability to follow their spatiotemporal behavior. Carrier separation on the surface of the p-n junction extends tens of microns beyond the depletion layer, as explained by a model using a ballistic-type transport. With the invention of SUEM, it should now be possible to study density profiles and electric potentials at surfaces and interfaces at the ultrafast time scale with the spatial resolution of the electron probe.

As a reminder, the Call For Paper for the MRS Fall 2015 meeting closes on June 18.


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