February 19, 2006 9:00 PM PST

IBM promotes making chips in the bath

IBM Research has come up with a way to draw lines in silicon 29.9 nanometers apart with existing chipmaking machines, far closer than on today's chips, a development that could help cut the cost of making chips in the future.

The breakthrough revolves around an enhanced, experimental version of immersion lithography. In immersion lithography, silicon wafers are immersed in purified water. Laser light shining through an intricate mask throws a microscopic shadow pattern onto the wafer, which then becomes permanent through chemical processes similar to the process in which a negative becomes a photographic print. The more intricate the pattern, the smaller the circuits.

The wafers are immersed in water because water bends light rays better than air, which in turn can lead to sharper resolution and smaller patterns. Immersion lithography will start getting used commercially in the relatively near future.

In IBM's system, light from the laser is split into two beams. Then, a tool called Nemo weaves the two beams to create a light and dark interference pattern that allows for a pattern with more closely etched lines that can be achieved in standard immersion lithography.

The system also swaps out water with a special fluid from JSR Micro, a specialized prism, and a special photoresist system.

"We can routinely do sub-30 nanometer spacing," said Robert Allen, manager of lithography materials at the Almaden Research Center, IBM Research.

If the Nemo system ultimately goes commercial, the process could let the industry wring more life out of 193-nanometer lithography systems installed today. Machines based on these standards--which can cost $15 million each and get delivered in customized tractor trailers--have been around for years. The name derives from the fact that the wavelength of the laser light measures 193 nanometers (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)

Replacing them with machines based on new technologies has not been easy. Years ago, IBM was one of the principal backers of X-ray lithography. It worked, but was not economical. In the past decade, Intel--along with Advanced Micro Devices and to a lesser extent IBM--has promoted Extreme Ultra Violet lithography, or EUV.

EUV systems have been delayed for years. Back in 1997, proponents expected EUV equipment to be on the manufacturing line for 65-nanometer chips, which just started coming out.

But the technology is still in the labs. Although Intel may use it to produce 32-nanometer chips, coming out around 2009 or 2010, researchers there say it won't likely hit until the chip generation after that, when processors will have an average feature size of 22 nanometers.

Nemo gives IBM confidence that immersion lithography with 193-nanometer systems could be used for the 32-nanometer chips. Pushing it to 22 nanometers, however, will require better fluids, different photoresist materials, and lenses made up of as-yet-unidentified substances, Allen said.

IBM will show off the results at the Microlithography 2006 conference being held in San Jose, Calif., this week.

See more CNET content tagged:
lithography, nanometer, IBM Corp., pattern, laser

11 comments

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"...because light bends light rays..."
"The wafers are immersed in water because light bends light rays better than air"

Er... Huh?
Posted by Peet42 (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sloppy proofreading
It should read, "...because water bends light rays...." It's a typo. Here's another in the same article:

"Years ago, IBM was one of the principal backers of X-ray lithography. It worked, but was economical."

Should read "but was NOT economical" (obviously).

Someone didn't spend enough time proofreading.
Posted by drgreenberg (1 comment )
Link Flag
Current chips I think are at...
about 90 nanometers, so this would be a helluva improvement, smaller chips = more horsepower (clockspeed) per socket
Posted by tech_junky (56 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Errors in story
"The wafers are immersed in water because light
bends light rays better than air"

Should read...

because water bends light rays better than air.

" Years ago, IBM was one of the principal
backers of X-ray lithography. It worked, but was
economical."

I assume that's uneconomical no economical.
Posted by oliverthered (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Errors in story
"The wafers are immersed in water because light
bends light rays better than air"

Should read...

because water bends light rays better than air.

" Years ago, IBM was one of the principal
backers of X-ray lithography. It worked, but was
economical."

I assume that's uneconomical not economical.
Posted by oliverthered (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Errors fixed
Thanks for pointing them out.
Posted by Jon Skillings (249 comments )
Link Flag
experimental
We have to keep in our mind that this is an experimental one.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.referate10.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.referate10.com</a>
Posted by mess483 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Boring
Ok big deal they can make a chip slightly smaller. They are probably trying to blow smoke away from Nano-chips since the government probably doesnt want people to have such fast processors.
Nano chips are 1000s of times faster and very easy to make. There is also nano silicon that can be used in current processes because silicon is used.

Right now there are major advances being made in Quantum computing as scientists are now able to control electrons.

With these nano chips we can upload ourselves and live forever but dont expect the Gov to tell :)
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ASML has been doing this for a while...
ASML was shipping it's third generation product last year and just came out with 4th gen, the TWINSCAN XT:1700i

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://asml.com/asmldotcom/show.do?ctx=6732&#38;rid=6730" target="_newWindow">http://asml.com/asmldotcom/show.do?ctx=6732&#38;rid=6730</a>
Posted by p_mcnally (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The wafers are immersed in water because the speed of light is slower
The refractive index of water is about 1.33 in the visible spectrum, but is much higher (&gt;1.5?) in the far ultraviolet. This means features that would have made 65nm in vacuum can be scaled to less than 45nm. It is not all beer and skittles, water is a nasty medium on the hardware and the shear forces on the wafer during motion tear up the surface.
Posted by (16 comments )
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