Sandia LabNews

Extreme excitement: Celebration marks EUVL microchip milestone

"It seems that EUV is winning out," Craig Barrett, president and CEO of Intel Corp., observed at a big celebration event at Sandia’s California site last week.

EUV, extreme ultraviolet lithography, is being developed through an industry-funded consortium by Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories as a way to create ever-finer features on microchips. (See April 6 Lab News for a four-page retrospective on the entire research project and partnership.)

When it was first made feasible in the 1990s, Barrett said at the April 11 event held in the Combustion Research Facility auditorium, EUV lithography "was perhaps one of the dark horses" among competing potential approaches under consideration for next-generation chip-making lithography. Now, he said, "it has become more the leading horse in the race."

A new approach is needed because the current chip-printing technique, traditional optical lithography, is hitting a physical limit around 2005 and won’t be able to continue increasing functionality by doubling the number of transistors that can be etched on a sliver of silicon every 18 months or so — a pace the semiconductor industry has enjoyed since the 1960s.

In the last four years, an industry consortium that is funding research at the three labs has grown to six members, and now includes Intel, AMD, Motorola, Micron Technology, Infineon, and IBM.

Huge step, leading choice

Sunlin Chou, an Intel senior vice president and manager of technology and manufacturing — who heads the industrial consortium, the EUV Limited Liability Company — called EUV lithography a promising "huge step" that won’t require the ordinary, slow, and expensive development of new materials for each successive generation of microchip manufacture.

Instead, he said, EUV would allow "many, many" generations of microchip manufacture. He considers it the leading choice for use in the second half of this decade and beyond, saying it will meet industry needs for more than a decade. In a process similar to photographic printing, it uses a wavelength an order of magnitude smaller than those in use today to inscribe features that could be as small as 20-25 nanometers. This breakthrough required many developments to achieve, so the light, invisible to the eye, could be used to create smaller and faster circuits for memory chips, microprocessors, and application-specific integrated circuits.

‘Wonderful, heart-warming’

Barrett lauded the cooperation that has made the pre-competitive collaboration possible, calling it "wonderful, heart-warming, and just phenomenal." He said consortium members will ultimately use the new technology to go on to "beat each other over the head in the marketplace — which is as it should be."

Representatives of semiconductor equipment manufacturers attended. They will use the tool assembled at Sandia to craft their commercial products for industry. "We look forward to getting one of these machines on the production floor in a couple of years," Barrett said.

The initial prototype, called the Engineering Test Stand, is not just a gleaming and complicated research tool occupying a 10×10-foot floor space, Chou said. It also represents "a history-making achievement."

Representing the three Department of Energy labs, which joined efforts in the partnership in a Virtual National Laboratory, John Gordon, Director of the Nuclear National Security Administration, said the tool’s ability to print features that may one day measure as small as 20 to 40 atoms across "probably wasn’t even a dream for today’s pioneers in the industry."

At $250 million from 1997-2002, this largest industry-funded CRADA ever undertaken by the DOE, he said, "really is a partnership that works in every direction." The challenge has kept researchers on the cutting edge of their fields as they apply their expertise — gained in national security projects — to this problem. He said their efforts advance a strategic industry considered critical to the United States and demonstrate that a public-private partnership "can really work."

‘We’ve done it’

Hosting the speakers, 8000 VP Mim John acknowledged the staff who are pushing the envelope of technology to its practical, theoretical limit for microchip patterning. Like the speakers who followed, she remarked on the foresight of the partners who supported the effort despite what Chou called "really intimidating risks."

"People four years ago said you can’t do this," Mim said, "and by God, we’ve done it."

Chou pointed out that members of his company have worked on smaller collaborations with the DOE labs for "many, many years," and were always impressed. "It sometimes seemed literally magical — things that it seemed couldn’t be done were done."

In her remarks as the only member of Congress with two national labs in her district, Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), savored her role "representing the smartest people in the world."

"We like people who are smart," she said, "and we believe in the state of the art." She praised the relatively new National Nuclear Security Administration for helping remove Defense Program laboratories "from the bureaucratic kudzu," saying she was proud to show the business community that government can be "smaller, smarter, and leaner — but not meaner."

Tauscher closed by predicting the partnership will create quality jobs, urging her listeners, "Let’s get back to work."