By Cameron Chai
Nowadays, plasma etching technology has been widely used for the production of semiconductor devices at the nano-scale down to 20 nm. Lam Research technologists are now working on the advancement of plasma etching technology to produce even smaller, quicker and tightly packed multipurpose chips.
Plasma etching technology makes delicately defined patterns on the insulating (dielectric) and conductive layers of the integrated circuit (IC) chips. This technique is capable of compensating the restrictions of lithography, an optical technique used to create templates for producing nanoelectronic features on silicon wafers. Due to the smaller size of the transistors and other parts, the lithography technique is not able to create accurate templates to place millions of transistors onto tiny ICs. Scientists are now developing extreme ultraviolet lithography technology to tackle this issue.
Plasma etching technology is utilized to rectify the flaws of the lithography technique by polishing the edges and packing gaps of the smaller parts of the chip. This technique also extends the capabilities of lithography such as double patterning and directly creating structures that are smaller in size compared to that of the templates. However, the technique has also had its basic limitations caused by the fundamental laws of chemistry and physics.
The technologists at Lam Research are working on to efficiently manipulate the characteristics of the different elements of the plasma, a gas mixture of neutral and charged particles, in the plasma etching process. Their aim is to carefully etch one atom layer at a time (atomic-layer etching), without affecting the remaining part of the material. The plasma tech technology advancement will be critical to produce the future-generation consumer electronics devices.