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IBM researchers inspired by hieroglyphics to create a semiconductor chisel

Tue 29 Apr 2014

To pack more and more devices on to a piece of semiconductor (usually silicon) the tracks on it must get narrower and narrower. Photolithography has reached its physical limits and electron beams are expensive and not particularly practical for the production of the required nano-scale prototypes.

So, IBM has been looking at new methods and this article on its research site describes a technique where it “chisels” away at the substrate with what is effectively a heated silicon needle to produce a resolution of 10nm – even better than an e-beam and without the fuss.


It demonstrated its success by “chiseling” the world’s smallest magazine cover ever. At 11 × 14 micrometers some 2,000 copies of the National Geographic Kids magazine cover could fit on a grain of salt.  The main picture shows the equipment used to achieve this amazing feat.

“IBM scientists have been working to address these drawbacks, and developed a new tool inspired by hieroglyphics, the written language created by the ancient Egyptians. The core of the technology is a tiny, heatable silicon tip with a sharp apex—100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil. Working like a 3D printer it “chisels” away material by local evaporation.

“With our novel technique we can achieve very a high resolution at 10 nanometers at greatly reduced cost and complexity. In particular by controlling the amount of material evaporated, we can also produce 3D relief patterns at the unprecedented accuracy of merely one nanometer in a vertical direction. Now it’s up to the imagination of scientists and engineers to apply this technique to real-world challenges,” said Dr. Armin Knoll, a physicist at IBM Research.”

To read the full article please click here
Photos from IBM Research 


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