Fusion energy researchers in the US claim to have found a solution to creating the high energy light needed to etch the next generation of microchips. The team from the University of Washington (UW) has formed a start up, Zplasma, to bring it to market.
"In order to get smaller feature sizes on silicon, the industry has to go to shorter wavelength light," commented Uri Shumlak, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. "We're able to produce that light with enough power that it can be used to manufacture microchips." The researchers claim their beam lasts up to 1000 times longer than competing technologies and provides more control over the 1million degree plasma that produces the light. "Over the past decade, the primary issue with these extreme ultraviolet light sources is they just can't produce enough power," added Prof Shumlak. "It's a stumbling block for the whole semiconductor industry." The researchers say they use a lower cost version of a fusion reactor that uses currents flowing through the material, rather than giant magnets. They claim this method produces plasma that is stable and long lived. Four capacitors supply up to 10kV to create an electrically charged xenon plasma. While current techniques generate a spark that lasts 20 to 50ns, Zplasma says its light beam lasts 20 to 50µs. "That translates directly into more light output, more power depositing on the wafer, such that you can move it through in some reasonable amount of time," said Prof Shumlak. The team claims to have verified production of 13.5nm light and has shrunk the equipment to the size of a pin to produce a sharp beam. Zplasma is now looking to integrate the technology with existing industrial processes.