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Self-Building Chips — As Easy As Microwave Meals

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the only-blinks-12:00 dept.

Hardware 51

nk497 writes "Canadian researchers have found a way to speed up self-assembling chips — by using microwaves instead of traditional ovens. Self-assembly is seen as key to enabling nanotechnology, but until now the block co-polymer method, which directs nanomaterials to create moulds and then fills them in with a target material, was too slow to be useful. 'By using microwaves, we have dramatically decreased the cooking time for a specific molecular self-assembly process used to assemble block co-polymers, and have now made it a viable alternative to the conventional lithography process for use in patterning semi-conductors,' the researchers said. The technique could make the technology a viable alternative to conventional lithography for chip production. 'We've got the process — the next step is to exploit it to make something useful.'"

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Microwave Meals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026046)

Great, I come to /. to read about technology meals and now you made me hungry by mentioning microwave meals? Is this some secret plan to make us all hungry?

I could use some pizza or donner kebab right now... Or a hamburger and hot dog...

Re:Microwave Meals (1)

Rip Dick (1207150) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027430)

technology meals

Familiar (2, Funny)

hellkyng (1920978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026076)

I had the same issue with hot pockets

Re:Familiar (1)

Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026138)

I just hope the microwaves don't leave these chips molten things that burn your insides, like my microwaved hot pockets.

Replicators! (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026098)

Lends credence to the sci-fi meme.

Re:Replicators! (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026438)

Only if we can make replicators that replicate their own microwaves...

Taste (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026118)

Do self-building chips taste as bad as microwave meals?

Re:Taste (1)

cdpage (1172729) | more than 3 years ago | (#34029950)

Microwaved All Dressed Chips... mmm... :S

If this is used in Consumer Electronics... (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026128)

...then shall we call them TV Dinners?

Seriously though, speaking as a Proud Canadian... YAY!

Re:If this is used in Consumer Electronics... (2, Funny)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026484)

I'm sure that when the gray goo comes to take over, the creators of South Park will be glad the can Blame Canada too!

Theoretical limits to the Ramen technique (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026140)

Chips built with this technique will be limited until the process can be scaled down to angelhair or less.

Anonymous Coward (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026306)

Microwave: Grey, bland, dry, rubbery.
Traditional: Golden brown, tastier, juicy, crisp in the outside - tender in the inside.
There's no comparison.

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026466)

Titled, "My dating criteria, by Anonymous Coward"

Re:Anonymous Coward (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026524)

Microwave: Grey, bland, dry, rubbery.
Traditional: Golden brown, tastier, juicy, crisp in the outside - tender in the inside.
There's no comparison.

One exception: Hard Boiled Eggs. A microwave is a perfect place to make them. Just place 3 or 4 fresh, whole eggs in a microwave safe bowl, set the microwave to 2 minutes per egg. Go enjoy some morning television until your delicious breakfast is done!

I'm sure you'll thank me!

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026760)

I've heard by some sources that it's actually possible to microwaveboil eggs as long as they are immersed in water. Water is supposedly not supposed to reach above 100, and provided thermal conductance away from the egg is high enough it shouldn't increase much above this.
Now of course, anonymous sources on the internet generally want to blow up eggs in your microwave, but i suspect none of them have really tried this and are properly informed as to what results in explosions and what doesn't.

I'd like to attempt this with water-tigth roughly egg shaped and sized containers for the eggs, theory being that the pressure in this eggsoskeleton would increase about the same amount as the pressure inside the egg and thus prevent rupture of the egg.
Before attempting this however, i need to find an armored microwave.

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026742)

Dry? Isn't the normal problem with microwaved food "soggy" ?

Chips tasted funny (3, Insightful)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026330)

I really liked the way chips tasted when they were made in conventional ovens, these newfangled microwaves make them taste kinda rubbery.

This is Useful How? (4, Informative)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026340)

This is not all that different from 'conventional lithographic techniques' from the way I understand this article (albeit which does nto include very much detail at all)

Traditionally the photoresist which is being patterned is either having bonds broken to let exposed areas be dissolved away, or bonds made to keep the exposed areas in following steps. At the end of the day you're shining radiation on a substrate to make a pattern.

Here is seems to me is they're using block co-polymers to assemble between different configurations - a soluble and insoluble one I imagine? At the end of the day they're still using the idea as traditional lithography. Why investigate this method when there's wavelength limitations that are currently hit I have no idea.

Microwaves are sitting at a higher wavelength than UV/extreme UV which is in use today so I don't see this being useful for patterning for semiconductors. Perhaps if it's cheaper and more compatible I could see this put into lab-on-a-chip style fab methods or something else...

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026398)

Microwaves are sitting at a higher wavelength than UV/extreme UV which is in use today so I don't see this being useful for patterning for semiconductors.

Lower wavelength. Right conclusion anyway.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026436)

Microwaves are higher wavelength than UV

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EM_spectrum.svg [wikipedia.org]

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34027380)

There is no *higher* wavelength. There is LONGER and SHORTER. Get the terms right! Hence it is called waveLENGTH

High and lower is *frequency* and microwaves are *lower* frequency or *longer* wavelength.

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026440)

It seems to me that the wavelength of UV (10 nm to 400 nm) is a lot shorter than microwaves (1mm to 1m).
Therefore I don't think that the wavelength of the microwaves is an issue for this application.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026492)

Maybe he meant frequency? That would fit adjectives like 'higher' and 'lower' better anyway, because as you've mentioned wavelengths are 'shorter' or 'longer'.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026522)

It's not that it's an issue it's that I do not see the use of this application

This is not a technology that will bring us to next generation semiconductor - I'd even be willing to state it's almost useless for semiconductors as your feature size will be barely hitting the micrometer range

Now there's no link to a more detailed discussion on their method (and I don't really feel like googling the author right now) - but if it is doing what I think it is this does not sound viable at all for semiconductors. Perhaps as a cheap alternative method for large feature lithography but for semiconductor chip fab I don't see it

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34027684)

Hi TinyEngineer10 - as you say, there's not a whole lot of information on self-assembly in the article itself; however, it isn't as though it's an obscure term in the nanotechnology field. Ultimately, you've made a bit of an idiot of yourself with your comments in this discussion thus far. It might be best to refrain from commenting on subjects you don't have any knowledge on, particularly if you won't take the time to educate yourself first.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34028468)

I do not see where I have made a fool of myself. I assumed that the block co-polymer was being used as essentially an alternative to photoresist in which the microwave would be used to assemble into an insoluble form which can then be etched away. If this sounds so unreasonable to you perhaps you should look into work on the field and realize that this is/has been done (not sure about the use of microwaves for heating) - and it's an area of research that imo is fairly useless. As I have been corrected below that it is likely that the polymer here is actually active in device usage and not as the resist as I thought a whole other discussion went on.

Anyways if you could kindly point out where I said anything inconsistent with the area of self-assembly or work in the field let me know (I do work in it) - the use of block co-polymers as active devices was an area I was unaware of and infact isn't even mentioned in TFA.

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026504)

Microwaves are sitting at a higher wavelength than UV/extreme UV which is in use today so I don't see this being useful for patterning for semiconductors.

Lower wavelength. Right conclusion anyway.

Microwave wavelength = about 30cm to 3mm
UV = about 400nm to 10nm

It's been awhile since I took basic math, but I'm pretty sure that 3mm>0.0004mm.

Re:This is Useful How? (2, Informative)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026558)

s/higher/longer

And I'm no expert, but I think the microwaves are just used as a heat source to cure the material so their wavelength is immaterial. In TFA it says they're being used to replace "old-fashioned convective cookers".

Re:This is Useful How? (3, Informative)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026600)

They are using molecular self assembly to do the chip features, the radiation wavelength is irrelevant for this process, this is quite apparent from reading the article which states they swtiched form a "convection oven", i don't see convection ovens having much wavelength so obviously it's used as a heatsource to drive the reactions, not for etching.
Via wikipedia i found an article stating 10nm is within reach for the method.

As to what the actual method is in details i'm not much wiser. But supposedly it's supposed to be simpler and allow smaller features than used today.

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026964)

This is not all that different from 'conventional lithographic techniques' ...

I would rather use my kitchen microwave to make my own microchips, than run out and buy a conventional lithographic chip maker. But that's just me.
I guess, once the process is rendered fully functional, the next step will be an open source instruction set?

Re:This is Useful How? (4, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027100)

As another poster points out, the microwaves are being used as a heat source (not for patterning), instead of oven annealing. It turns out that a microwave can cause the material to assemble much faster than conventional oven annealing, which is pretty exciting.

As for the "Why use self-assembly for lithography?" the basic idea is this: Conventional optical lithography is limited by the diffraction of light (as you mention). So for typical visible-light optical schemes, the best you can do is pattern features on the order of ~100 nm (using a bunch of tricks you can push a bit below this, which the semiconductor industry has done with fantastic results). In self-assembly, you design molecules that spontaneously form nanostructures of a well-defined size. So instead of enforcing a particular size-scale using light and patterning masks (top-down fabrication), you design the required size-scale into the molecules themselves (bottom-up fabrication).

In the work described in TFA, they were using block-copolymers, which are polymers (long chain-like molecules) that are have two chemically-distinct "blocks". So one half of the chain is of one kind of material, and the other half of the chain is another type of material. Like so:
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB

Because the "A" and "B" subunits don't like each other (they are sufficiently chemically distinct), they want to separate from one another (like oil and water not mixing). But because they are bound to one another using a covalent bond (the "-" in my diagram), they can't fully separate, and instead form nano-structures with a size-scale dictated by the length of the A and B blocks. So you can control the size using the lengths of the blocks, control the segregation using the chemistry of the two blocks, and control the morphology [nyu.edu] (the structures that form) using the ratio of the A block length to the B block length.

This process is fantastic at making well-defined structures at the nano-scale (down to 10 nm has been demonstrated; down to 5 nm seems do-able). However one still has to control the positioning of these structures. So a lot of work has gone into combining self-assembly with conventional photo-lithography. The conventional lithography defines the long-range registry and pattern; the self-assembly lets you fill in that pattern with ultra-small structures. In case you think this is all theoretical, Toshiba recently announced [slashdot.org] a working prototype hard-drive with magnetic dots made using these techniques.

Disclaimer: Part of my research is in this area, so I may be biased towards thinking this is cool/novel/useful.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027480)

I'm in the nanotech sector as well so I'm fairly familiar with all this - just had the wrong impression of what the block co-polymers were being used for - I was assuming they were some kind of replacement for traditional photoresist

Are these co-polymers being use as an organic electronic material say in OLEDS or are they designed so that they have a specific configuration to essentially after assembling they are in the pattern you want them to be? (this is a good chance to plug yourself and a link to a journal article or something - the future of semicon fab is of huge interest to me)

Re:This is Useful How? (3, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027724)

Are these co-polymers being use as an organic electronic material say in OLEDS or are they designed so that they have a specific configuration to essentially after assembling they are in the pattern you want them to be?

The dream is to have the block-copolymer blocks be functional. So, say one block is the donor and one the acceptor in an organic photovoltaic. Or the blocks form an OLED as you suggest. Or one block has a sensing element and the other block acts as electrode contacts. Or one block has reaction centers that can be metallized to generate wires.

The current state of the art is more primitive, with the assembled block-copolymer being used as a resist, since the two blocks will have different etch contrast. So in the case of the Toshiba work (Hitachi is working on something similar) the block-copolymer nano-dot pattern was used as a resist to etch into a magnetic layer and thus form magnetic nano-dots with a much higher area-density than could be done with conventional optical lithography (or something similar to that: they have not released full details). We're still not at the stage where we can build something as complex as a transistor using block-copolymers as the resist(s), but we're getting there.

are they designed so that they have a specific configuration to essentially after assembling they are in the pattern you want them to be?

Originally the hype about self-assembly was that the molecules would spontaneously form the devices you want ("Pour the components together in a beaker and a computer pops out!"). I think the field is getting more realistic now, and accepting that self-assembly has to be coupled with other techniques (such as optical lithography to control the larger-scale positioning, or annealing tricks, as in TFA, to direct the assembly) to create fully-functional devices. But self-assembly can still provide a level of nano-control and cost savings compared to more laborious techniques.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

TinyEngineer10 (1859624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34028022)

Since this is an area of interest for you I have previously done some work in industry for using what we considered something approaching an organic covalently bonded crystal (excuse the specific wording here - how sure we were of what was happening was a big worry for us)

Anyways we were looking into some work on reticular chemistry (google the phrase - a lab from UCLA should pop up) - and using the same concept to create photoconductive organic thin films without the need for much structural support. It's an area of chemistry I find extremely promising (I am not a chemist) but from what I see most of the work seems to be in creating super-porous materials but I see no reason why you can't create these highly structured films using organic molecules that have electrical properties that we want.

I'm not sure if that area is of any use for you but take a look at the structures they've made, and the proof they have that they exist (they were able to get some very convincing XRD patterns for a wide array of configurations which matched up to theoretical calculations)

Miind you in our attempts to replicate it using some custom made photoconductors we were only able to get vague peaks which required you to not wear glasses to see...

Anyways the beauty of these was processing them was easy...once you had the starter molecules ofcourse. Conditions to form the structures were low temperature bakes for less than an hour in general. If a surface is activated properly I think it would be very feasible to say just spin coat the solution, and start your bake and hopefully you end up with a film which is stuck to your surface right where you want it...but now I'm being an engineer pretending he has a clue about chemistry...

Anyways back on topic - I totally agree with your last paragraph. It's nice to see significantly fewer sensational articles than I remember seeing in the field. Even in the past five years alot of the research getting out has been less grey goo look how skynet's going to take over to much more reasonable reports. What I especially love is the amount of interdisciplinary work I'm starting to see where these highly specialized chemistry groups are actually working with engineers and the like to get some feasible processes down. It's not nearly as common as I'd like but it's starting to get there....

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34028152)

Thanks for the link to reticular chemistry. I'll check that out as it seems promising (a lot of self-assembled structures really are too soft and floppy for the high-performance applications they are proposed for).

I'm also pleased you mention XRD since GISAXS/GIXD is the other half of my research program!

Re:This is Useful How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34042308)

The structures made by block copolymers can be either functional (or a template to make something functional) or used as a mask (like a photoresist) for chemical etching (so it is, in a way, a replacement for a photoresist). In one of the examples from this paper, the block copolymers are used to template the formation platinum nanowires; these could be used either as a functional structure or as a mask allowing one to etch a very fine striped pattern into the surface. The unique feature of using microwaves is that it speeds up the self-organization of the block copolymer, allowing it to realize a minimum energy configuration (i.e. the desired pattern); other methods have generally required a substantial period of time to fully organize. This method manages to complete the organization in under 4 minutes, which is something that the ITRS (published by the Semiconductor Industry Association, see: http://www.itrs.net/ [itrs.net] ) has stated is a necessary step for the commercial implementation of block copolymer lithography. The paper, published in ACS Nano, really goes into details. If you /you institution is not a subscriber, you can still access the Supporting Information free of charge [acs.org] which includes dozens of pictures & SEM images and a video.

(rohtua ht4 eht m'i)

Re:This is Useful How? (2, Informative)

westcoaster004 (893514) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042358)

The structures made by block copolymers can be either functional (or a template to make something functional) or used as a mask (like a photoresist) for chemical etching (so it is, in a way, a replacement for a photoresist). In one of the examples from this paper, the block copolymers are used to template the formation platinum nanowires; these could be used either as a functional structure or as a mask allowing one to etch a very fine striped pattern into the surface. The unique feature of using microwaves is that it speeds up the self-organization of the block copolymer, allowing it to realize a minimum energy configuration (i.e. the desired pattern); other methods have generally required a substantial period of time to fully organize. This method manages to complete the organization in under 4 minutes, which is something that the ITRS (published by the Semiconductor Industry Association, see: http://www.itrs.net/ [itrs.net] ) has stated is a necessary step for the commercial implementation of block copolymer lithography. The paper, published in ACS Nano, really goes into details. If you /you institution is not a subscriber, you can still access the Supporting Information free of charge [acs.org] which includes dozens of pictures & SEM images and a video.

(rohtua ht4 eht m'i)
(oops... didn't mean to do that last one anon.)

Re:This is Useful How? (3, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027976)

For those with journal access (American Chemical Society), here is the actual scientific paper:
Fast Assembly of Ordered Block Copolymer Nanostructures through Microwave Annealing [acs.org] Xiaojiang Zhang, Kenneth D. Harris, Nathanael L. Y. Wu, Jeffrey N. Murphy, and Jillian M. Buriak, ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn102387c [doi.org] .

Here is the abstract:

Block copolymer self-assembly is an innovative technology capable of patterning technologically relevant substrates with nanoscale precision for a range of applications from integrated circuit fabrication to tissue interfacing, for example. In this article, we demonstrate a microwave-based method of rapidly inducing order in block copolymer structures. The technique involves the usage of a commercial microwave reactor to anneal block copolymer films in the presence of appropriate solvents, and we explore the effect of various parameters over the polymer assembly speed and defect density. The approach is applied to the commonly used poly(styrene)-b-poly(methyl methacrylate) (PS-b-PMMA) and poly(styrene)-b-poly(2-vinylpyridine) (PS-b-P2VP) families of block copolymers, and it is found that the substrate resistivity, solvent environment, and anneal temperature all critically influence the self-assembly process. For selected systems, highly ordered patterns were achieved in less than 3 min. In addition, we establish the compatibility of the technique with directed assembly by graphoepitaxy.

Re:This is Useful How? (1)

westcoaster004 (893514) | more than 3 years ago | (#34042420)

I'll add that anyone can access the Supporting Information [acs.org] free of charge. It includes several images and figures, and a short video of the procedure.

(rohtua ht4 eht m'I .S.P)

I for one... (1)

zawarski (1381571) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026364)

...welcome our self-building chip overlords.

Re:I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34027886)

You forgot: microwave-gun toting overlords.

sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026420)

a replicator from star trek

Self assembly? (2, Informative)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026626)

TFA doesn't have much detail, in fact it doesn't have much of anything. I've even posted it below. What I was missing was an explanation for the "self assembling" claim. I had to go to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] . I think the article submitter could have added that as a courtesy.

TFA:

Researchers at Canada's National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) have developed a way of quicker way to enable self-assembling semiconductors - using microwaves ovens.

The technique could make the technology a viable alternative to conventional lithography for chip production.

Self assembly is seen as key to enabling nanotechnology, but until now the block co-polymer method, which directs nanomaterials to create moulds and then fills them in with a target material, was too slow to be useful.

However, the Canadian researchers found that by switching from old-fashioned convective cookers to newfangled microwave ovens the process time was reduced from days to less than a minute.

“By using microwaves, we have dramatically decreased the cooking time for a specific molecular self-assembly process used to assemble block co-polymers, and have now made it a viable alternative to the conventional lithography process for use in patterning semi-conductors,” the researchers said.

"This is one of the first examples of the self-assembly process being used to address a real-world problem for the semi-conductor industry," said Dr Jillian Buriak, head of materials and interfacial chemistry at NINT.

"We've got the process - the next step is to exploit it to make something useful."

awesome (1)

guspasho (941623) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026828)

Finally, a solution to the pile of crumbs at the bottom of the bag!

Stupid article headlines - as easy as copy & p (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34026842)

Do we really need stupid headlines like this one? How about Self-building chips using microwaves, not heat.

How is this news? (1)

Datoyminaytah (550912) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026902)

How is this news? Everyone knows microwave ovens cook faster than traditional ovens.

Re:How is this news? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027104)

Because now Skynet can be self-assembled in minutes instead of days...!

First hockey, then Tim Horton's (1)

company suckup (1351563) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027114)

now self-building chips. I've wondered what those crazy Canucks have been up to. Well besides a certain angry redhead in Calgary. Must be the long winters up there.

The real benefit (1)

phrackwulf (589741) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027810)

Anybody here actually done lithography? Its normally a pretty time intensive process to mask the die, then precisely etch the thing then clean that up and move on to the next step depending on how sophisticated the device is you are building. This process, if it works, basically helps knock out some of the intervening steps and speeds up the overall process using microwave radiation for curing. Of course, that's just my understanding (JMHU), I could be wrong.

Anecdotally.. (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 3 years ago | (#34027962)

When we were growing crystals from saturated salt solutions, in high school science classes, we always got MUCH better results from solutions we'd cooked off in the microwave - bigger and clearer crystals.

We never really followed it up much though.

Nice, but... (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 3 years ago | (#34035870)

I may be remembering this wrong, but doesn't the time (and thus energy) needed to cook something in a microwave grow more than linearly with quantity, and wouldn't that make this method scale badly ?

Maybe I'm taking the microwave meal analogy too far :-)
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