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Grand challenges to to niggling nettles in 2010

Posted: 05 Jan 2010  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:challenges  lithography  EUV  smart grid  interface 

What electronics bloopers do you most want engineers to fix in 2010? This is your chance to put your wish on their 2010 to-do list.

To prime the pump we asked editors of EE Times what nettlesome issues they'd most like to see EEs sort out next year. Their list ranges from grand challenges of engineering to niggling nettles of consumer gadgetry.

At one end of the spectrum our semiconductor editor said engineers need to deliver the long promised extreme ultraviolet lithography needed to make tomorrow's chips. At the other, our news editor called for a returned to manned space exploration. In between, many of us complained about the daily battles we have with tangled power cords, tiny keyboards and crappy user interfaces.

We hope you enjoy our list and that it inspires you to contribute your own ideas—large and small—to the conversation.

Now let's hear your wish list for 2010.

EUV scanner: will it work?

Wanted: Next-gen litho
During various lithography conferences over the last few years, the industry has sounded like a broken record: Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography is making progress, but the technology remains delayed and not ready for prime time.

It's become a running joke, but the term "progress" is a codeword for delayed. Many dread the same old tune will be sung at the upcoming SPIE Advanced Lithography event in February of 2010. At this event, I also get the feeling that I can simply cut and paste my previous articles about EUV. I can just add a new and different date.

That makes my job easier, but it's getting tedious and tiresome. So, I'm making a request for the industry: Please fix EUV or drop it for good!

Right now, the industry can't afford to drop EUV, given the time and resources spent on the technology. The IC industry has spent millions of dollars in R&D for EUV, the possible replacement for today's workhorse optical lithography tools.

But the clock is ticking on EUV, which is really a "soft" X-ray technology. In the late 1990s, Intel Corp., the big EUV proponent, promised that the technology would be ready for the 65nm node. But to date, EUV is still not ready and the industry is now hoping the technology will make it for the 16nm node, possibly in 2015.

Many doubt that EUV will ever make it in mainstream chip production. Perhaps the industry will save face and use EUV in niche applications. It's still unclear.

For years, the problems have remained constant. There are a lack of viable power sources, photoresists and defect-free masks for EUV. The latest and greatest problem is a lack of metrology and inspection tools for EUV.

Both Intel and Sematech want the industry to pour more money into developing EUV inspection tools. The timing is bad.

Most fab tool vendors are still suffering amid the recession. R&D funds are scarce, and throwing money at the problem is questionable. The metrology tool vendors—including Applied, KLA-Tencor and others—are balking and somewhat pessimistic about the prospects for EUV.

Fixing the problems for EUV is no easy task. But until these issues are resolved, look for the same tune—and excuses—from the EUV crowd. Perhaps it's a moot point: Today's 193nm immersion lithography may end up extending to 16nm and beyond. This may leave EUV much like the other costly and failed X-ray lithography R&D projects from the past.

- Mark Lapedus


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