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New Method to Probe for Defects in Microelectronics

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 06:32PM

Advances in technology and our understanding of physics have been allowing microelectronics to reach incredibly small sizes as fewer and fewer atoms are needed for the same devices. While the smaller size allows us to reach higher speeds, it also makes the circuitry more susceptible to defects. Researchers at Vanderbilt University developed a new way to study these defects and how radiation interacts with them. Unfortunately, the results are not encouraging.

In essence, the researchers developed a sonar system, similar to that energy companies use to find oil and coal, but instead of explosions to create the sound waves, lasers were used. An ultrafast laser pulse strikes the surface of the semiconductor and creates a pressure wave within the material. This wave is reflected off of the electrons in the material, but the electrons of a defect change the wave. When the wave bounces back to the surface, it affects the reflection of a laser bouncing off of the material's surface, and those minor distortions are enough for a computer to analyze.

The researchers found that a single neon atom defect in a gallium arsenide semiconductor actually affect a thousand of atoms around it. In larger devices that contain millions of atoms, that is hardly noticed, but as newer devices are reaching down to just thousands of atoms, that one atom can cause a lot of problems. If the technology also heads to optoelectronics which use lasers, this issue could be even more profound, but at least now we have a good means to measure and study it.

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