The large purple rectangle in this colorized image is a chip feature about 40 by 150 nanometers in size, surrounded by encapsulating material. The magnified section shows the planes of silicon atoms used to calibrate feature measurements. Photo courtesy NIST
Device features on computer chips as small as 40 nanometers (nm) wide--less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair--can now be measured reliably thanks to new test structures developed by a team of physicists, engineers, and statisticians at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), SEMATECH, and other collaborators. The test structures are replicated on reference materials that will allow better calibration of tools that monitor the manufacturing of microprocessors and similar integrated circuits.
The new test structures are the culmination of NIST’s more than four-year effort to provide standard "rulers" for measuring the narrowest linear features that can be controllably etched into a chip. The NIST rulers are precisely etched lines of crystalline silicon ranging in width from 40 nm to 275 nm. The spacing of atoms within the box-shaped silicon crystals is used like hash marks on a ruler to measure the dimensions of these test structures. Industry can use these reference materials to calibrate tools to reliably measure microprocessor-device gates, for example, which control the flow of electrical charges in chips.
"We have caught up to the semiconductor industry roadmap for linewidth reference-material dimensions with this work," says Richard Allen, one of the NIST researchers involved in the project. "With the semiconductor industry, one has to run at full speed just to keep up."
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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