Part of the  

Solid State Technology


About  |  Contact

NanoParticle Self-Assembly at UofM

December 12th, 2014

Theory and Practice synergize R&D

UofM_Glotzer-Kotov_MRS2014awardSharon C. Glotzer and Nicholas A. Kotov are both researchers at the University of Michigan who were just awarded a MRS Medal at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting in San Francisco for their work on “Integration of Computation and Experiment for Discovery and Design of Nanoparticle Self-Assembly.” Due to the fact that surface atoms compose a large percent of the mass of nanoparticles, the functional properties of quasi-1D nanoparticles differ significantly from 2D thin-films and from 3D bulk materials. An example of such a unique functional property is seen in self-assembly of nanoparticles to form complex structures, which could find applications in renewable energy production, optoelectronics, and medical electronics.
While self-assembly has been understood as an emergent property of nanoparticles, research and development (R&D) has been somewhat limited to experimental trial-and-error due to a lack of theory. Glotzer and Kotov along with their colleagues have moved past this limit using a tight collaboration between computational prediction and experimental observation. The computational theorist Glotzer provides modeling on shapes and symmetric structures, while the experimentalist Kotov’s explores areas involving atomic composition and finite interactions. Kotov and his students create a nanoparticle and look for Glotzer and her group to explan the structure. Conversely, Glotzer predicts the formation of certain structures and has those predictions confirmed experimentally by Kotov.
One specific area the two scientists have explored is the formation of supraparticles—agglomerations of tightly packed nanoparticles that are self-limiting in size. The supraparticles are so regular in size and sphericality that they would actually pack to form face-centered-cubic (fcc) lattice-like structures. The theoretical and computational work, followed by experimental verification, further proved that these supraparticles could be formed from a vast variety of nanoparticles and even proteins, provided they were small enough and had significant van der Waals and electronic repulsion forces. This exciting development creates a whole new class of “bionic” materials that may combine biomaterials and inorganics.

ASML Books Production EUV Orders

November 24th, 2014

TSMC commits to two tools for delivery next year

Maybe, just maybe, ASML Holding N.V. (ASML) has made the near-impossible a reality by creating a cost-effective Extreme Ultra-Violet (EUV @ ~13.5nm wavelength) all-reflective lithographic tool. The company has announced that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSMC) has ordered two NXE:3350B EUV systems for delivery in 2015 with the intention to use those systems in production. In addition, two NXE:3300B systems already delivered to TSMC will be upgraded to NXE:3350B performance. While costs and throughputs are conspicuously not-mentioned, this is still an important step for the industry.
Perhaps acquiring Cymer to get the source-technology in-house for tighter integration was important. Perhaps evolutionary improvements crept along by tough engineering rigor. Perhaps the industry got lucky. One way or the other, ASML has had the goal of delivering not just hardware but functional uptime/availability using very complex EUV technology, and now it seems to be on the cusp of making it happen. The company claims that current EUV tools are available 50% of the time, at unspecified source power levels.
At its Investor Day in London today, ASML outlined its expected opportunity to grow net sales to about EUR 10 billion and to triple earnings per share by 2020, an indication of the confidence the company has in its technology and employees. Much of the growth will be in Deep-UV immersion tools, and in so-called “Holistic Lithography” products to deliver advanced correction capabilities. An example of Holistic Litho is Source-Mask-Optimization (SMO) that can be used for triple-patterning of a 48nm minimum pitch metal layer using DUV immersion in a Litho-Etch-Litho-Etch-Litho-Etch (LELELE) flow, such that the Depth-of-Focus (DoF) can be increased from 70 to 86nm. Holistic EUV means that SMO can reduce the dose required to get 120nm DoF from 46 to 20 mJ/cm2 for a 45nm minimum pitch metal layer.
The presentations can be found at the company’s website.
— E. K.

Nakamura Co-Wins Nobel for Blue LEDs

October 7th, 2014

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”. In the late 1980s red and green LEDs had been around for decades, but despite large programs in both academia and industry there had been almost no R&D progress in blue LEDs (this editor did process R&D in an LED fab in that era). Then Akasaki and Amano at the University of Nagoya showed work on improved p-doping in GaN due to electron irradiance, leading to p-n junctions to make diodes.

Structure of a blue LED with a InGaN/AlGaN double heterojunction [Source: S. Nakamura, T. Mukai & M. Senoh, Appl. Phys. Lett. 64, 1687 (1994)]. Structure of a blue LED with a InGaN/AlGaN double heterojunction (Source: S. Nakamura, T. Mukai & M. Senoh, Appl. Phys. Lett. 64, V1687, 1994).From 1989 to 1994, Shuji Nakamura worked at Nichia Chemicals in Tokushima, Japan where he led a small team of co-workers to achieve a quantum efficiency of 2.7% using a double heterojunction InGaN/AlGaN (see Figure). With these important first steps, the path was cleared towards the development of efficient blue LEDs and solid-state white lighting. Nakamura-sensei is now a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-founder of Soora Corp. where GaN-on-GaN technology is used to increase efficiency through the elimination of the buffer-layers needed with saphhire substrates. The “Tales of Nakamura” article at IEEE Spectrum provides an excellent summary of this extraordinary man’s life story, including the US$600M payout from Nichia that was reduced to US$8M by a higher court.
Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps with high lm/W efficiency. The most recent record is just over 300 lm/W, which can be compared to 16 for regular light bulbs and close to 70 for fluorescent lamps. As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources.
Shine on!

IBM Shows Graphene as Epi Template

October 2nd, 2014

Last month in Nature Communications (doi:10.1038/ncomms5836) IBM researchers Jeehwan Kim, et al. published “Principle of direct van der Waals epitaxy of single-crystalline films on epitaxial graphene.” They show the ability to grow sheets of graphene on the surface of 100mm-diameter SiC wafers, the further abilitity to grow epitaxial single-crystalline films such as 2.5-μm-thick GaN on the graphene, the even greater ability to then transfer the grown GaN film to any arbitrary substrate, and the complete proof-of-manufacturing-concept of using this to make blue LEDs.

(Source: IBM) (Source: IBM)

The figure above shows the basic process flow. The graphenized-SiC wafer can be re-used to grow additional transferrable epi layers. This could certainly lead to competition for the Leti/Soitec/ST “SmartCut” approach to layer-transfer using hydrogen implants into epi layers.
No mention is made of the kinetics of growing 100mm-diameter sheets of single-crystalline GaN on graphene. Supplemental information in the online article mentions 1 hour at 1250°C to cover the full wafer, but the thickness grown in that time is not mentioned. From first principles of materials engineering, they must either:

A) Go slow at first to avoid independent islands growing to form a multicrystalline layer, or
B) Initially grow a multicrystalline layer and then zone anneal (perhaps using a scanned laser) to transform it into a single-crystal.
In either case, we would expect that after just a few single-crystalline atomic layers had been either slowly grown or annealed, that a 2nd much-higher speed epi process would be used to grow the remain microns of material. More details can be seen in the EETimes write up.

Leti integrates everything

August 31st, 2014
Figure 1:  Leti’s 300mm diameter silicon wafer fabrication line on the MINATEC campus in Grenoble, France. In the foreground is space for a new fab intended for work on silicon-photonics. (Source: Ed Korczynski) Figure 1: Leti’s 300mm diameter silicon wafer fabrication line on the MINATEC campus in Grenoble, France. In the foreground is space for a new fab intended for work on silicon-photonics. (Source: Ed Korczynski)

Now I know how wafers feel when moving through a fab. Leti in Grenoble, France does so much technology integration that in 2010 it opened a custom-developed people-mover to integrate cleanrooms (“Salles Blanches” in French) it calls a Liaison Blanc-Blanc (LBB) so workers can remain in bunny-suits while moving batches of wafers between buildings. I got to ride the LBB from the 300mm diameter wafer silicon CMOS and 200mm diameter wafer MEMS fabs (Fig.1) along the cement monorail to the more specialized fab spaces for industrial partners and for nanoelectronics start-ups. This was my first time experiencing this world-exclusive ISO 6 (“Class 1000”) mobile cleanroom, and it very nicely moves people in 3 minutes between cleanroom buildings that would otherwise take 30 minutes of de-gowning and walking and re-gowning. In the foreground of Fig.1 is space for a new fab intended for silicon-photonics R&D and pilot fabrication.

Figure 2:  Leti’s “Liaison Blanc-Blanc” (LBB) ISO 6 mobile cleanroom connects buildings on the MINATAC campus with elevator-like automation along a cement monorail. (Source: Ed Korczynski) Figure 2: Leti’s “Liaison Blanc-Blanc” (LBB) ISO 6 mobile cleanroom connects buildings on the MINATAC campus with elevator-like automation along a cement monorail. (Source: Ed Korczynski)

Fig.2 shows the LBB as it passes a Linde gas tower in front of spectacular alpine scenery on the way to Leti’s specialized and start-up fab building. One of Leti’s great strengths is that it does more than just lab-scale R&D, but has invested in all of the tools and facilities to be able to do pilot manufacturing of nanoscale devices. Didier Louis, Leti international communications manager and gracious tour host through the cleanrooms, explained that when working with new materials a pragmatic approach is needed; for example, color coding for wafer transport carriers informs if there is no copper, copper encased by other materials, or exposed copper on wafers therein.

Chasing IC Yield when Every Atom Counts

August 4th, 2014

Increasing fab costs coming for inspection and metrology
ITRS2013_Yield_overviewAt SEMICON West this year in Thursday morning’s Yield Breakfast sponsored by Entegris, top executives from Qualcomm, GlobalFoundries, and Applied Materials discussed the challenges to achieving profitable fab yield for atomic-scale devices (Figure source is the ITRS 2013 Yield Chapter). Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, recording was not allowed and copies of the presentations could not be shared.
Qualcomm – Geoffrey Yu
Double-patterning will be needed for metal and via layers as we go before 90nm pitch for the next generations of ICs. Qualcomm is committed to designing IC with smaller features, but not all companies may need to do so. Fab costs keep going up for atomic-scale devices…and there are tough trade-offs that must be made, including possibly relaxing reliability requirements. “Depending on the region. If you’re in an emerging region maybe the reliability requirements won’t be as high,” said Yu. Through-Silicon Vias (TSV) will eventually be used to stack IC layers, but they add cost and will only be used when performance cannot be met with cheaper solutions. “An early idea was to use TSV for logic:memory,” reminded Yu, “but then there was innovation to LPDDR4 allowing it deliver the same bandwidth with one-half the power of LPDDR3, which delayed TSV.”
GlobalFoundries – Harry Levenson
“A more expensive part could provide a better value proposition for a customer,” reminded Levenson as he discussed the challenges of inspecting next-generation commercial ICs in high-volume manufacturing (HVM). “We still have clear demand for products to run in HVM at the leading edge, but we are now in the world of double-patterning and this applies to optical inspection as well as imaging.” Requirements for inspection and imaging are different, but he same physics applies. In imaging Depth of Focus (DoF) of ~140nm is generally preferred, while the same used for inspection  of a <140nm thin film would to induce noise from lower-levels. We can’t do e-beam inspections due to too much energy concentration needed to get acceptable throughput (and the challenge gets worse as the pixel area is reduced, inherently slowing down throughput). However, e-beams are helpful because they can detect open contracts/vias in metal levels due to the conductivity of electrons providing additional contrast compared to any possible optical inspection.
Applied Materials – Sanjiv Mittal
Mittal discussed how the CMOS transistor gate formation process has increased in complexity over the last few device generations:  8x more unit-process steps, 3x higher fab cost, 50x lower defects needed for yield. “The challenges are immense,” admitted Mittal. “What happens when you try to work on yield improvement when you’re ramping volume? At the same time you’re trying to improve yield by making changes, you’re trying to increase the volume by not making changes.”
Entegris – Jim O’Neill
O’Neill is CTO of the combined Entegris post-merger with ATMI, and was recently director of advanced process R&D for IBM. Since Entegris provides materials and sub-systems, in the simplest cases the company works to improve IC fab yield by minimizing defects. “However, the role of the materials-supplier should change,” averred O’Neill. “The industry needs bottle-to-nozzle wet chemistry solutions, and applications-based clean gas delivery.” In an exclusive interview with SST/SemiMD, O’Neill provided as example of a ‘wetted process solution’ a post-CMP-clean optimized through tuning of the brush polymer composition with the cleaning chemistry.
ITRS Difficult Challenges for Yield 2013-2020

  • Existing techniques trade-off throughput for sensitivity, but at expected defect levels, both throughput and sensitivity are necessary for statistical validity.
  • Reduction of inspection costs and increase of throughput is crucial in view of CoO.
  • Detection of line roughness due to process variation.
  • Electrical and physical failure analysis for killer defects at high capture rate, high throughput and high precision.
  • Reduction of background noise from detection units and samples to improve the sensitivity of systems.
  • Improvement of signal to noise ratio to delineate defect from process variation.
  • Where does process variation stop and defect start?


Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 4) Why?

July 23rd, 2014

We forgot Moore merely meant that IC performance would always improve (Part 4 of 4)

IC marketing must convince customers to design ICs into electronic products. In 1965, when Gordon Moore first told the world that IC component counts would double in each new product generation, the main competition for ICs was discrete chips. Moore needed a marketing tool to convince early customers to commit to using ICs, and the best measure of an IC was simply the component count. When Moore updated his “Law” in 1975 (see Part 1 of this series for more details), ICs had clearly won the battle with discretes for logic and memory functions, but most designs still had only single-digit thousands of transistors so increases in the raw counts still conveyed the idea of better chips.

MooresLaw_1965_graphFor almost 50 years, “Moore’s Law” doubling of component counts was a reasonable proxy for better ICs. Also, if we look at Moore’s original graph from 1965 (right), we see that for a given manufacturing technology generation there is a minimal cost/component at a certain component count. “What`s driven the industry is lower cost,” said Moore in 1997. “The cost of electronics has gone down over a million-fold in this time period, probably ten million-fold, actually. While these other things are important, to me the cost is what has made the technology pervasive.”

Fast forward to today, and we have millions of transistors working in combinations of “standard cell” blocks of pre-defined functionalities at low cost. Graphics Processor Units (GPU) and other Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC) take advantage of billions of components to provide powerful functionalities at low cost. Better ICs today are measured not by mere component counts, but by performance metrics such as graphics rendering speed or FLOPS.

The limits of lithography (detailed in Part 2 of this blog series) mean that further density improvements will be progressively more expensive, and the atomic limits of physical reality (detailed in Part 3) impose a hard-stop on density at ~1000x of today’s leading-edge ICs. “If we say we can`t improve the density anymore because we run up against all these limitations, then we lose that factor and we`re left with increasing the die size,” said Moore in 1997.

Since the cost of an IC is proportional to the die size, and since the cost/area of lithographic patterning is not decreasing with tighter design-rules, increasing the die size will almost certainly increase cost proportionally. We may not need larger dice with more transistors, however, as future markets for ICs may be better served by the same number of transistors integrated with new functionalities.

International R&D center IMEC knows as well as any organization the challenges of pushing lithography and junction-formation and ohmic contacts to atomic limits. In the 2014 Imec Technology Forum, held the first week of June in Brussels, president and chief executive officer Luc Van den hove’s keynote address focused on the applications of ICs into communications, energy, health-care, security, and transportation applications.

TI has been making ICs since they were co-invented by Kilby in 1959, and over a decade ago TI made a conscious decision to stop chasing ever-smaller digital. First it outsourced digital chip fabrication to foundries, and in 2012 began retiring digital communications chips. Without continually shrinking components, how has TI managed to survive? By focusing on design and integration of analog components, in the most recent financial quarter the company posted 58% gross margin on $3.29B in sales.

At The ConFab last month, Dr. Gary Patton, vice president, semiconductor research and development center at IBM, said there is a bright future in microelectronics (as documented at Pete’s Posts blog).

The commercial semiconductor manufacturing industry will see only continued revenue growth in the future. We will process more area of silicon ICs each year, in support of shipping an ever increasing number of chips worldwide. More fabs will be built needing more tools and an increasing number of new materials.

Moreover, next generation chips will be faster or smaller or cheaper or more functional, and so will better serve the needs of new downstream customers. ASICs and 3D heterogeneous chip stacks will create new IC product categories leading to new market opportunities. Personalized health care could be the next revolution in information technologies, requiring far more sensors and communications and memory and logic chips. With a billion components, the possibilities for new designs to create new IC functionalities seems endless.

However, we are past the era when the next chips will be simultaneously faster and smaller and cheaper and more functional. We have to accept the end of Dennard Scaling and the economic limits of optical lithography. Still, we should remember what Gordon Moore meant in 1965 when he first talked about the future of IC manufacturing, because one factor remains the same:

The next generation of commercial IC chips will be better.

Past posts in the blog series:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 1) What defines the end.

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 2) When we reach economic limits,

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 3) Where we reach atomic limits.

Future posts in this blog will ruminate about new materials, designs, and technologies for next 50 years of IC manufacturing.


Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 3) Where?

July 16th, 2014

…we reach the atomic limits of device scaling.

At ~4nm pitch we run out of room “at the bottom,” after patterning costs explode at 45nm pitch.

Lead bongo player of physics Richard Feynman famously said, “There’s plenty of room at the bottom,” and in 1959 when the IC was invented a semiconductor device was composed of billions of atoms so it seemed that it would always be so. Today, however, we can see the atomic limits of miniaturization on the horizon, and we can start to imagine the smallest possible functioning electronic device.

Today’s leading edge ICs are made using “22nm node” fab technology where the smallest lithographically defined structure—likely a transistor gate—is just 22nm across. However, the pitch between such transistors is ~120nm, because we are already dealing with the resolution limits of lithography using water-immersion 193nm with off-axis-illumination through phase-shift masks. Even if a “next-generation” lithography (NGL) technology were proven cost-effective in manufacturing— perhaps EbDW for guidelines combined with DSA for feature fill and EUV for trim—we still must control individual atoms.

We may have confidence in shrinking to 62nm pitch for a 4x increase in density. We may even be optimistic that we can shrink further to a 41nm pitch for a ~10x increase in density…but that’s nearing the atomic limits of variability. There are many hypothesized nanoscale devices which could succeed silicon CMOS in IC, but one commonality of all devices is that they will have to be electrically connected. Therefore, we can simplify our consideration of the atomic limits of device scaling by focusing on the smallest possible interconnect.

4nmPitchDevice_TheorySo what is the smallest possible electrical interconnect? So far it would be a Single-Walled Carbon NanoTube (SWCNT) doped with metals to be conducting. The minimum diameter of a SWCNT happens to be 0.4nm, but that was found inside another CNT and the minimum repeatable diameter for a stand-alone SWCNT is ~1nm. So if we need three contacts to a device then the smallest device we can build with atoms would be a 3nm diameter quantum dot. As shown in the figure at right, if we examine a plan-view of such a device we can just fit three 1nm diameter contacts within the area.

Our magical device will have to be electrically isolated and so some manner of dielectric will be needed with some minimal number of atoms. Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) of alumina has been proven in very tight geometries, and 3 atomic layers of alumina takes up ~1nm so we can assume that spacing between devices. A rectangular array would then result in ~16nm2 as the smallest possible 3-terminal device that can be built on the surface of planet Earth.

Note that a SWCNT of ~1 nm diameter theoretically could carry ~25 microAmps across an estimated 5kOhm internal resistance [(ECS Transactions, 3 (2) 441-448 (2006)]. I will leave it to someone with a stronger device physics background to comment as to the suitability of such contacts for useful circuitry. However, from a manufacturing perspective, to ensure electrical contacts to billions of nanoscale devices we generally use redundant structures, and doubling the number of SWCNT contacts to a 3-terminal device would call for ~8 nm pitch.

However, before we reach the 4-8nm pitch theoretical limits of device scaling, we will reach relative economic limits of scaling just one device feature such as a transistor gate. Recall that there are just 22 silicon atoms (assuming silicon crystal lattice spacing of ~0.3nm) across a ~7nm line, and every atom counts in controlling device parameters. Imec’s Aaron Thean recently provided an excellent overview of scaled finFET technologies, and though the work does not look at packing density we can draw some general trends. If we assume 41nm pitch and double fins with 20nm gate length then each device would use ~1,600 nm2.

Where are we now? Let us consider traditional 6-transistor (6T) SRAM cells built using “22nm node” logic process flows to have minimal area of ~100,000 nm2 or ~16,000 nm2 per transistor. At IEDM2013 (9.1), TSMC announced a “16nm node” 6T SRAM with ~70,000 nm2 area or ~10,000 nm2 per transistor.

IBM recently announced that 6 parallel 30nm long SWCNT spaced 8nm apart will be developed as transistors for ICs by the year 2020. Such an array would use up ~1440 nm2 of area. Again, this is at best another 10x in density compared to today’s “22nm node” ICs.

Imec held another Technology Forum at SEMICON/West this year, in which Wilfried Vandervorst presented an overview of innovations in metrology needed to continue shrinking device dimensions. His work with Scanning Spreading Resistance Microscopy (SSRM) is extraordinary, showing ability to resolve 1-2nm conductivity variations in memory cell material. Working with Resistive RAM (ReRAM) material using a 2nm diameter probe tip as the top contact, researchers were able to show switching of the material only underneath the contact…thus proving that a stable ReRAM cell can be made with that diameter. If we use cross-bar architectures of that material we’d be at a 4nm pitch for memory, coincidentally the same pitch needed for the densest array of 3-terminal logic components.


Pitch / “Node”

Transistor nm2

Scale from 22nm

193nm lithography double-patterning

124nm / “22nm”



Atomic variability (economics)

41nm / “7nm”



Perfect atoms (physics)




The refreshing aspect of this interconnect analysis is that it just doesn’t matter what magical switch you imagine replacing CMOS. No matter whether you imagine quantum-dots or molecular memories as circuit elements, you have to somehow connect them together.

Note also that moving to 3D IC designs does not fundamentally change the economic limits of scaling, nor does it alter the interconnect challenge. 3D ICs will certainly allow for greater number of devices to be packed into a given volume, so mobile applications will likely continue to pull for 3D integration. However, the cost/transistor is limited by 2D process technologies that have evolved over 60 years to provide maximum efficiency. Stacking IC layers will allow for faster and smaller devices, though generally only with greater costs.

Atoms don’t scale.

Past posts in the blog series:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 1) What defines the end, and

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 2) When we reach economic limits.

The final post in this blog series (but not the blog) will discuss:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 4) Why we say long live “Moore’s Law”!


Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 2) When?

July 10th, 2014

…economics of lithography slow scaling.

Moore’s Law had been on life support ever since the industry started needing Double-Patterning (DP) at 1/4-pitch of 193nm optical lithography. EUV lithography shows slow and steady progress in source and resist technologies, and ASML folks tell me that they now have a pellicle to protect the reflective masks, yet it remains in R&D. All other lithographic technologies under consideration—e-beam direct write, nano-imprint, directed self-assembly—can help with patterning certain layers for certain chips, but lack the broad applicability and economic advantages of 193nm.

At this year’s SPIE Advanced Lithography event, renowned lithographer and gentleman scientist Chris Mack led an extended toast ( that ended with, “Moore’s Law is over, long live Moore’s Law.” While Wednesday, February 26, 2014 may seem like a rather arbitrary moment, we seem to have the informal consensus of the world’s leading lithographers.

The 4th blog in this series will discuss the “Why” of Moore’s Law continuing as a marketing term…with each company in the industry using the term as well as “More than Moore” to mean slightly different technology advances. Henceforth, “Moore’s Law” may mean that the next IC will be smaller, or faster, or cheaper…but we are past the era when new chips will be simultaneously smaller and faster and cheaper.

ScalingTrends_2003-2015_32nmThe adjacent figure from SEMI shows the rate of scaling since we hit 90nm half-pitch…the last time that the term “node” directly correlated to the lithographic half-pitch. The clear inflection-point at the “32nm node” (which was really 45nm half-pitch) was the moment that DP was needed for patterning critical layers. In a panel discussion at the 2014 imec Technology Forum in San Francisco during SEMICON/West, John Chen, vice president of technology and foundry management, NVIDIA clearly declared, “Double-patterning is a technological and economic discontinuity.”

I should note that, as the EUV developer for the world, ASML strongly feels that the technology will enable future cost-effective scaling.

Meanwhile, 193nm lithography currently provides the economic limits to scaling, so we can easily understand recent and future phases of the industry in terms of fractions of this wavelength:

½ of 193nm = 90nm half-pitch as the end of simple scaling,

¼ of 193nm = 45nm half-pitch (~32nm “node”) begins Double Patterning,

1/8 of 193nm = 22nm half-pitch begins Quadruple Patterning, and

1/16th of 193nm = 11nm half-pitch which would need Octuple Patterning.

Note that the half-pitch limits shown above are approximations, and the lithography community has been using every trick in the book to lower the resolution limit of 193nm lithography. Water immersion for higher-NA, ‘inverse lithography’ to optimize phase-shifting masks, and off-axis illumination have all been deployed to allow 45nm half-pitch patterning.

Quartz lenses become opaque below 193nm, and thereby limit use of any lower wavelengths. Thus, 193nm has become an economic limit on affordable IC production, just as 1234 km/h has been proven as the economic limit on commercial aircraft speed. The “Concorde analogy” explains that physical world constraints combine with economics to create real limits on exponential progress.

Since the air-travel industry hit the economic limit of the speed-of-sound, air-travel innovation has continued but not in raw speed. Quiet airplane cabins and huge improvement in in-flight entertainment and food, when combined with refreshments and entertainment in airports improves the overall experience. Wireless computer networks on airplanes and in airports allow travelers with mobile computers (including smart-phones and tablets) to work and play throughout the travel day.

Innovation in the semiconductor industry will certainly continue after we can no longer afford to shrink digital switches. We already have billions of logic elements with which to form circuitry, and we can combine logic with embedded-memory and with sensors and actuators into 3D nanoscale systems. We can do this today. The truth is, when we run out of room at the 2D bottom we have plenty of room to play at the 3D top…remembering that the cost of chip stacking is set by 2D processing economics.

Past post in the blog series:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 1) What defines the end.

Imminent posts in this blog series will discuss:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 3) Where we reach atomic limits,

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 4) Why we say long live “Moore’s Law”!


Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 1) What?

July 2nd, 2014

…twice the number of components won’t appear on the next IC chip (Part 1 of 4)

Gordon Moore always calls it “so-called Moore’s Law” when discussing his eponymous observation about IC scaling trends, and he has always acknowledged that it’s no more and no less than a marketing tool used to inform an ecosystem of downstream chip-users of price:performance improvements planned. The original observation published in 1965 and updated in 1975 established that the number of functional circuit components—including transistors, diodes, and any passive components—on a single IC chip doubled periodically.

MooresLaw_1975_graphWhen Moore updated this in 1975 (Moore, Gordon. “Progress in Digital Integrated Electronics” IEEE, IEDM Tech Digest (1975) pp.11-13.) he decomposed the sources of increasing component count as follows:

  • Die size increase,
  • Dimension decrease (a.k.a. “shrink”),
  • Device and Circuit design (a.k.a. “cleverness”).

Note that Moore never said anything about cost, speed, power-consumption, or reliability. It was left to the IC sales guys to inform that lithographic R&D meant that the next generation chips would actually be smaller and cost less, and most importantly the ability to maintain Dennard Scaling with power-reduction/transistor rules meant that each chip reliably consumed less power. This was the glory era when each new chip generation provided it all:  more components, faster speed, and cheaper price.

Five years ago, Gordon Moore and Jay Last provided an insightful review of the founding of the IC industry at the Computer History Museum, which I covered in an independent blog posting ( As well summarized in the “Transistor Count” entry at Wikipedia ( by 1975 the industry was working on designs with 10k transistors, and 100k by 1982, and 1 million by 1989. Incredibly, the trend continued to 1 billion transistors on a chip in production in 2010.

In my interview with Gordon Moore published in the July 1997 issue of Solid State Technology, he emphasized two points:  the atomic limits of IC manufacturing, and the fact that when we start to reach atomic limits we’ll be able to put 1 billion circuit elements into a square centimeter of silicon. However, henceforth we will no longer get it all with the next generation chips, and will only be able to choose one from the glory list that used to be a package deal (pun intended):  more, faster, cheaper. IC innovation will certainly continue, but it will not come through smaller and faster and cheaper circuit elements. Moore’s accurate prediction of gigascale circuitry on cheap chips explicitly sets the stage for the next 50 years of innovation in IC manufacturing…we’ve only begun to play with billions of transistors.

Make no mistake, everyone wishes that Moore’s Law was still alive and well. IC fabs most of all, but everyone from economists and politicians promising exponential growth ( to futurists selling absurd fantasies of benevolent nanobots ( deeply wish that Moore’s Law would continue. Sadly, no exponential in the real world can go on forever, and we make mistakes when we blindly ignore changing conditions behind an exponential trend.

More than ever before, people with little understanding of what Gordon Moore said let alone what he meant try to discuss the ramifications of an eventual end to Moore’s Law. In particular, people who have never worked in a semiconductor fab nor designed a commercial IC love extrapolating prior trend-lines forward without an understanding of how we got here nor a clue about the real atomic and economic limits of IC production.

Some analyses ignore the realities of manufacturing process control ( while others revel in extrapolations based on mathematical abstractions and economic theories (, and such work can be so bad that it is “not even wrong”.

Imminent posts in this blog series will discuss:

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 2) When we reach economic limits,

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 3) Where we reach atomic limits,

Moore’s Law is Dead – (Part 4) Why we say long live “Moore’s Law”!