Revolutionary Optics for the Production of the Computer Chip of the Future

(f.l.t.r.) Winfried Kaiser, Dr. rer. nat. Peter Kürz, Dr. rer. nat. Martin Lowisch

Dr. rer. nat. Peter Kürz (Spokesperson)
Winfried Kaiser
Dr. rer. nat. Martin Lowisch

Carl Zeiss SMT AG, Oberkochen

MP3 players, GPS navigation systems, cameras – compact and versatile electronic devices would not be conceivable without the constant increase in efficiency of computer chips.
What steps need to be taken to ensure that developments in digital electronics continue to be pushed?

With a new fabrication technology for semi-conductor chips, Peter Kürz, Winfried Kaiser, and Martin Lowisch have laid the foundation for further advances in microelectronics. Peter Kürz was instrumental in this development as head of the EUV program as was Winfried Kaiser as head of product development and strategy lithography-optics, and Martin Lowisch as system engineer for EUVL systems at Carl Zeiss SMT AG in Oberkochen.

Short-wave light for precise structures
In presenting this innovation, the three nominated researchers launched a promising candidate with the potential to replace optical lithography as the method of fabricating computer chips. Used for decades in chip fabrication, optical lithography uses light focused by a sophisticated optical system to trace minute structures of processors, memory elements and conductor lines on silicon. As a rule, the shorter the wavelength of light, the smaller the structures to be created can be. Production of more powerful chips with ever finer structures was until the advent of this development only possible on systems for light with very short wavelengths.

Yet optical lithography will soon reach basic physical limits and further miniaturization with conventional methods will no longer be possible. With the help of EUV technology for which Peter Kürz, Winfried Kaiser and martin Lowisch and their team at Carl Zeiss SMT developed the optical systems, this limit can now be overcome.

In the future soft X-ray radiation
EUV lithography (EUV: Extreme UltraViolet) is similar in function to the previously used method, but uses X-ray radiation instead of light to produce structures. Since glass and air absorb x-ray light, a novel optical projection system had to be developed: unlike previous systems, it is not based on lenses, but rather on mirrors which have been ground to extreme precision and must be adjusted with extreme accuracy.

The time and energy Peter Kürz, Winfried Kaiser, and Martin Lowisch at Carl Zeiss SMT together with over 100 employees and external partners devoted to this project was well worth the effort: Systems that use EUV lithography can now pack up to ten times more microelectronic components on a computer chip than has been possible in the past. This paves the way for many new applications and products. Over the next few years, the first EUV devices are to be delivered for series production to chip manufacturers. The first demonstration systems are already in operation.

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