Discovery could lead to faster, smaller, cheaper computer chips
In a discovery that could greatly reduce the size and cost of computer chips, Princeton researchers have found a fast method for printing ultrasmall patterns in silicon wafers.
The method, described in the June 20 issue of Nature, could allow electronics manufacturers to increase the density of transistors on silicon chips by 100-fold while dramatically streamlining the production process. Packing more transistors onto chips is the key to making more powerful computer processors and memory chips.
Researchers in the lab of electrical engineer Stephen Chou used the new technique to make patterns with features measuring 10 nanometers -- 10 millionths of millimeter. The method involves pressing a mold against a piece of silicon and applying a laser pulse for just 20 billionths of a second. The surface of the silicon briefly melts and resolidifies around the mold.
The method eliminates the costly and time-consuming step of etching, or photolithography, which had been the only way to make such small patterns in silicon. While the etching process takes 10 or 20 minutes to make a single chip, Chou's imprint method accomplishes it in a quarter of a millionth of a second.
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