22 March 2011

Boosting Memory Chips

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Moore’s law predicts that the number of transistors on a silicon chip will double approximately every two years. Thanks to nano technology a similar acceleration is observed in data storage capability of memory chips by CORINNA LUECKE

In each generation cycle memory chips get smaller and less expensive, but can hold more data. They are used in USB memory sticks, personal computers, video consoles and many other electronic devices. Further advances in electronics’ technology rely now on the development of new materials and in particular on their manufacture in nano scale thin films. Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) is a way to manufacture metal oxide materials layer by layer on the nano scale. 

Within the EU research project REALISE synthetic chemists, materials scientists, electronic engineers and commercial project partners from all over Europe developed together an optimized process for nano scale deposition for the semiconductor manufacturing. 

“Improvements in memory chips are now only possible by bringing in new materials that can be laid down with the high quality needed”, says project coordinator Simon Elliott from Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland.

The new materials are rare earth oxides: A fine powder that functions as an electronic insulator. It will isolate the electrical information on computer chips. The aim is to achieve a high dielectric material, with a so called high k-value, which would enable a large capacitance.

ASM Microchemistry in Helsinki, Finland, the chemical manufacturer partner in the project, has developed reactors that are able to deposit the rare earth oxides onto silicon wafers in a semi conductor line. The new process allows the scientists to put down these particular high-k dielectric films with a very high control and a very good quality and to do all that under clean room conditions. 

Particle checks, electrical tests and measuring of the uniformity of the thickness have also been done with the processed wafers. The results are promising. All the elements are in place for the semi conductor industry to take on this new material when they are ready and produce the memory chip of the future
 

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