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Nano-scale breakthrough promises huge impact for electronic devices

A team of RIT researchers led by Bruce Smith, RIT’s Intel Professor of Microelectronic Engineering, has developed the ability to produce optical image resolution at the smallest-ever level. The breakthrough optical nanolithography technique uses a prototype tool developed at RIT to produce images for semiconductors as small as 38 nanometers.

The advancement means microelectronic devices that previously required extreme ultraviolet or near X-ray wavelengths can now be produced with optics and light much closer to the ultraviolet, allowing for more rapid and cost-effective development of smaller, more powerful and more affordable microelectronic devices, Smith says.

Bruce Smith

“These results will have significant impact on the direction of the research, development and manufacturing of semiconductor devices,” says Smith, who is also associate dean in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering.

The process is an enhanced method of creating circuit patterns on computer chips by exposing a light-sensitive layer through a layer of water. By taking advantage of the unique optical properties of water at ultraviolet wavelengths, resolution nearly 1/20th the wavelength of visible light (1/1,000th the width of a human hair) is possible. The higher resolution allows for smaller features in micro- and nano-devices.

RIT received funding for the technology from International SEMATECH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(more commonly known as DARPA), Semiconductor Research Corp., IBM Corp., ASML Holding NV and Intel Corp.