Research discovery could revolutionize semiconductor manufacture

Nov 28, 2012
A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors. Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas. Credit: Lund University

A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors. The findings have been published in the latest issue of Nature.

Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.

Behind the discovery is Lars Samuelson, Professor of Semiconductor Physics at Lund University, Sweden, and head of the University's Consortium. He believes the technology will be ready for in two to four years' time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.

"When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said 'you're out of your mind, Lars; that would never work'. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of", he says.

"The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down!"

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An animation of the production process

Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted. In the article in Nature, the researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold .

Recently, they have also built a prototype machine with a specially built oven. Using a series of ovens, the researchers expect to be able to 'bake' the nanowires, as the structures are called, and thereby develop multiple variants, such as p-n diodes.

A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.

"In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming", adds Lars Samuelson.

At the moment, the researchers are working to develop a good to capture the nanowires and make them self-assemble in an ordered manner on a specific surface. This could be glass, steel or another material suited to the purpose.

The reason why no one has tested this method before, in the view of Professor Samuelson, is that today's method is so basic and obvious. Such things tend to be difficult to question.

However, the Lund researchers have a head start thanks to their parallel research based on an innovative method in the manufacture of nanowires on semiconductor wafers, known as epitaxy – consequently, the researchers have chosen to call the new method aerotaxy. Instead of sculpting structures out of silicon or another semiconductor material, the structures are instead allowed to develop, atomic layer by atomic layer, through controlled self-organisation.

The structures are referred to as or nanorods. The breakthrough for these structures came in 2002 and research on them is primarily carried out at Lund, Berkeley and Harvard universities. The Lund researchers specialise in developing the physical and electrical properties of the wires, which helps create better and more energy-saving , LEDs, batteries and other electrical equipment that is now an integrated part of our lives.

Explore further: For electronics beyond silicon, a new contender emerges

More information: Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tuneable properties, DOI: 10.1038/nature11652

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verkle
not rated yet Nov 28, 2012
Hope this will allow us to re-start Moore's law, and have another 30 years of solid semiconductor market growth.
Parsec
not rated yet Nov 28, 2012
Recently, researchers discovered that synapses are created when nerve cell axons cross, in a quite arbitrary matter. In other words, just toss a bunch of axons together, and grow the synapses where they touch, and this most resembles the way our brains are constructed.

I am wondering if this technique could be used to pack trillions of artificial synapses 3 dimensionally to create a prototype electronic brain.
VendicarD
not rated yet Nov 29, 2012
There is no longer plenty of room at the bottom.

In fact, it is getting quite tight.

"Hope this will allow us to re-start Moore's law, and have another 30 years of solid semiconductor market growth." - Verkle

Moor's law didn't even hold for the last 30 years.
ddanimal
not rated yet Nov 29, 2012
This is horribly out of date. This method ahs been known since the early 90s. And it hasnt "revolutionized" anything yet. And these researchers were even using the word "aerotaxy" at least as early as 1996.