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Posted: Mar 15, 2011
German project will launch a new era in chip fabrication
(Nanowerk News) The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is sponsoring an extensive joint project headed by Carl Zeiss on EUV lithography (Extreme Ultra Violet). This new technology has major potential to further miniaturize microchips and will play a key role in increasing their performance in the future. This project is intended to drive EUV lithography from basic industrial research to a fully capable production technology for the volume fabrication of chips. The BMBF is sponsoring the three-year project with a total of 16.4 million euros.
In addition to two companies from the Carl Zeiss Group, six other German companies and research institutes are involved in the project. Winfried Kaiser, Senior Vice President of Product Strategy for Lithography Optics at Carl Zeiss emphasizes the significance of this project by saying that "There is an excellent research and development landscape in Germany for EUV lithography. This project unites and enhances this globally leading know-how, which in the end will create attractive new jobs in Germany."
The first key milestone was the recent comparison of the current status of EUV lithography with competing methods. The results strengthen the perspectives seen in EUV lithography. Simultaneously, the development steps initiated were verified.
Core process in chip fabrication
Lithography is a key process in chip fabrication that each microchip is subjected to on multiple occasions during production. The functional elements of a microchip are transferred from a mask to a silicon wafer – the substrate material of microchips – by means of complex optical systems. Compared to the existing lithography process, EUV lithography works with a considerably shorter wavelength (13.5 nanometers), which enables much finer details and thus further miniaturization. However, this extremely short wavelength also places completely new demands on the entire lithography infrastructure. For example, the systems must be operated in a vacuum because air or technical gases absorb the irradiation. Mirrors also had to replace lens elements in the optical systems due to material absorption. Furthermore, the demands on cleanliness in the process increase significantly.
As part of the BMBF project, two companies of the Carl Zeiss Group are developing the mirror systems required for the lithography processes and the systems to evaluate and repair lithography masks. The other project partners are IMS CHIPS (Stuttgart), HamaTech APE GmbH & Co KG (Sternenfels), Advanced Mask Technology Center GmbH & Co. KG (AMTC, Dresden), Bruker Advanced Supercon GmbH (Bergisch Gladbach), Dynamic Micro Systems GmbH (Radolfzell) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology (FhG IISB, Erlangen), which are responsible for the development of EUV mask integrity, infrastructure and process simulations.
The project is part of the European EXEPT project (Extreme UV Lithography Entry Point Technology) headed by Dutch company ASML. It is a spin-off of the EUREKA Cluster CATRENE for Nanoelectronics. It is the continuation of the very successful cooperation of European companies in the high-tech sector over the past decade, which was effectively bolstered through targeted support measures and which enabled the partners to take the lead in the global competition. This is an outstanding success story for projects in the EUREKA Cluster.