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The semiconductor business is moving at an increasingly fast pace, and the need to develop new technologies for future chip generations is driving advanced research. For Lam, an important strategy for tapping into these emerging technologies is collaboration with academia.
University collaboration, when done effectively, is valuable for all participants. Students have the opportunity to turn innovations into practical projects, and professors gain insight into real-world challenges as well as access to complementary expertise in support of their research. Companies like Lam reap the rewards of an outcome that can positively impact competitiveness and create a pipeline for hiring elite talent. One such successful engagement is our work with the University of Texas at Austin (UT).
The UT-Lam collaboration is one model for developing disruptive technologies needed beyond 10 nm and navigating the rising costs and complexity of their development. Our work with UT on directed self-assembly (DSA) – a patterning technology being explored for future device nodes – is an example of cooperation between university materials scientists and manufacturing equipment technologists that can help speed results. “The key success for us is how fast we’ve come up the learning curve,” says Dave Hemker, Lam’s Chief Technology Officer. “It’s very early for DSA, it’s high risk, and organic chemistry is not typically a core competency of the semiconductor equipment industry. So it made sense to partner with a world expert,” explains Dave.
Prof. Grant Willson, a recent awardee of the National Medal for Technology and Innovation, and Prof. Chris Ellison are the UT professors in chemistry and chemical engineering overseeing the university’s DSA research. Prof. Willson says that while they’ve had some success designing block co-polymer materials for lithography applications, they couldn’t fully demonstrate their utility. “But with access to leading-edge etching equipment and to experts in designing the process technology, we have been able to combine what they know with what we know, enabling us to quickly move the technology into the next phase of development,” he explains. “This is a perfect example of synergy. If we want to develop advanced materials that will be used in manufacturing, we can’t just make the materials alone. We have to demonstrate the material’s full functionality to show that it can be used in manufacturing.”
When working on research targeting sub-10 nm technology nodes, access to leading-edge equipment can be vital. In support of this effort, we donated an advanced dielectric etch process module to speed the cycles of learning with UT on DSA. “Having the state-of-the-art tool on campus and the local experts who know how to use it allows students and researchers to get results much more quickly,” says Prof. Willson. “We’re very pleased with the start-up of the system at UT and look forward to continued success in working together,” adds Dave.
Lam is also working to develop disruptive nanomanufacturing technologies through our partnership with the NSF-funded NASCENT Nanosystems Engineering Research Center, headquartered in UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering. As a member of the NASCENT industrial partnership program, we are leveraging the center’s top research talent and state-of-the-art facilities, while supporting our goal of accelerating the design, development, and commercialization of innovative processes, tools, and devices. NASCENT’s vision is to create and validate a scalable and cost-effective nanomanufacturing infrastructure to enable future nanotech factories for deploying promising nanoscience concepts to address societal needs.
Lam’s commitment to collaborating with universities around the world is a great way to tap into leading-edge research and establish partnerships with the people behind it. Working together effectively yields a win-win situation for all involved.
Results from UT-Lam collaboration on DSA materials, as shown in “Interfacial Design for Block Copolymer Thin Films,” Maher et al., Chemical Materials, 26 (3) 2014.