Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York have uncovered a more efficient fabricating process to produce semiconductors used in today's electronic devices.
This new fabrication process, dubbed I-MacEtch (or inverse metal-assisted chemical etching method) can apparently help meet the growing demand for more powerful and reliable nano-technologies needed for solar cells, smartphones, telecommunications grids and new applications in photonics and quantum computing.
It could also take advantage of new non-silicon materials, the researchers said, potentially increasing the performance of electronic devices.
"For the first time we are looking at applying I-MacEtch processing to indium-gallium-phosphide materials, said Parsian Mohseni, the assistant professor of microsystems engineering in RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering.
"I-MacEtch is an alternative to two conventional approaches and is a technique that has been used in the field -- but the materials that have been explored are fairly limited."
According to Mohseni, the discovery was made due to the growing demand for improved computer processing power, which has led the researchers to explore both new processes and other materials beyond silicon to produce electronic components.
One of the several new materials in testing is Indium-gallium-phosphide. This is being used to complement silicon as a means to improve the current capacity of semiconductor processing, Mohseni explained.
"This is a very well-known material and has applications in the electronics and solar cell industries," he said. "We are not re-inventing the wheel; we are establishing new protocols for treating the existing material that is more cost-effective, and a more sustainable process."
Traditional processes to create semiconductors on wafers (through a multi-step process to coat, remove or pattern conductive materials) are wet etch and reactive ion etching.
Wet etch is where a wafer sample with blocked aspects is immersed in an acid bath to remove substances, and reactive ion etching is where ions bombard exposed surfaces on the wafer to change its chemical properties and remove materials in those exposed regions. Traditionally, both have been used to develop the intricate electronic patterns on circuits and use silicon as a foundation for this type of patterning.
However, the I-MacEtch process is unique in that it combines the benefits of both these two traditional methods.
The researchers believe that improving patterning methods by I-MacEtch could mean reducing fabrication complexity of various photonic and future electronic devices.
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