Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nanofabrication Technology: A View of the Future

A fascinating and thought provoking lecture (video) by Grant Willson, Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Texas:
In a lecture that dips into both the anatomy and history of the semiconductor, Grant Willson offers some provocative thoughts on whether industry can continue improving on this most useful of inventions.

He describes how steady advances in miniaturization enabled the astonishing progress of microchips over the past 40 years. Today, says Willson, you can “buy a transistor for less than the cost of a single written character in your local newspaper.” When he began at IBM in the 1970s, the silicon wafers produced were only 1 ¼ inches in diameter; now “they’re bigger than pizzas.”

Willson delves into the technological changes that both enabled printing on circuits to grow smaller, and the final product to grow larger. He details the original process of photolithography, involving designing a circuit pattern, then using a $25 million printer with a focused electron beam to reproduce the pattern on special glass, called a mask. It’s the mask’s pattern, etched onto a silicon wafer that forms the basis of the microchip. Layer after layer of these patterns get laid down on a single chip...


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