Microelectronic Engineering Programs and Laboratory Overview
In 1982 RIT launched the first Microelectronic Engineering Bachelor of Science program in the country. RIT’s great reputation in photographic science (the precursor to today’s imaging science program) led to a supplying of the semiconductor industry with photolithographic process engineers who had terrific working knowledge of photo-chemistry and optics. In 1980 Texas Instruments approached RIT about combining the attributes of its imaging science graduates with electrical engineering course work centered on semiconductor process and device design which resulted in the formation the new major called Microelectronic Engineering. There are three unique aspects of RIT’s Microelectronics program. The first is that the program was designed as a new undergraduate program from the very beginning, resulting in a courses and a curriculum that has not been duplicated. The second is the un-heard of amount of undergraduate access to an advanced laboratory and tool set such as that housed in the Semiconductor and Microsystems Fabrication Laboratory. The third unique aspect of our program is the required year of cooperative work experience which helps to create graduates who are in demand and arrive at work ready to make an immediate impact. Please refer to the Microelectronic Engineering BS program curriculum web site for detailed information on courses and requirements.
One of the key technologies used to create integrated circuits is the ability to transfer an image or pattern from one media to another to allow underlying layers to be locally etched. This process is called photolithography. Photolithography requires knowledge of both chemical processing and imaging/optics. A light sensitive liquid plastic called photoresist is spun onto the silicon wafers as a thin coating. The coating is sensitive to ultra-violet light but relatively insensitive to yellow light, hence the yellow lighting and yellow coating on the windows within this bay. The priming, spin coating and baking processes are highly automated to provide high uniformity and repeatability. A very expensive, camera-like system of lenses is used to reduce an image formed in chrome on a quartz plate to a much smaller image in the light-sensitive photo-resist layer.
The RIT Microelectronic Engineering curriculum has multiple separate courses with labs in these areas where as many other programs reduce the content to portions of a single class or lab.
One of the main reasons solid state semiconductor electronics is so dominant is the ability of designers to tailor the conductivity of the materials to meet certain device specifications. This is typically done by adding other elements from the periodic table to the semiconductor in a substitutional fashion. One mechanism for doing this is diffusion. In much the same way that a plug-in heated air freshener diffuses a scent throughout your home, a high-temperature (1,000 degrees Centigrade) furnace is used to perform solid-state diffusion of elements such as boron or phosphorous into semiconductors such as silicon. Another way of changing the semiconductor conductivity is to implant ions of elements such as boron or phosphorous into the silicon. The ion implant process is similar to an atomic level paint-ball gun in which energetic ions are blasted into a substrate. A thermal step follows the implantation to anneal the damage and electrically activate the ions. Both diffusion and ion implantation take place in a very thin layer on the surface of the substrate (typically less than 1/100th of a human hair). Very few universities have a working ion implanter that is accessible to students at the undergraduate level, making this a unique learning experience.
This laboratory supports the electrical and mechanical characterization of semiconductor devices for educational and research purposes through wafer level probing and testing of discrete packaged parts. The lab contains multiple semi-automatic wafer probers with probe cards and cameras as well as manual probe stations. Test instrumentation includes Agilent Semiconductor Parameter Analyzers, oscilloscopes, power supplies, and network analyzers and the associated control software (ICS Metrics). The lab also houses the Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) packaging and testing laboratory.
Another of feature of the Microelectronic Engineering program is our ability to make our own photo-mask designs at a much lower cost internally than if we were to purchase our masks from an outside vendor. Through the endowed Perkin-Elmer Electron Beam Mask Making Laboratory, RIT is able to make custom photo-mask sets for various required classes as well as for senior design and research courses. Students are not constrained to the use of pre-designed mask sets from previous courses but can explore various design options to help them understand the inter-related nature of the processing and design work. A typical 6”x6” mask written by e-beam at a commercial mask house can cost tens of thousands to dollars per plate.