The Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) is researching new nanomaterials for semiconductor technology in three EU joint projects. The goal is to precisely determine the properties of the materials and thus significantly improve the performance quality of microchips.
Micro- and nanoelectronics is a key technology and is used in many areas - from charging stations for electric vehicles, smartphones and computers to medical technology. With the increasing miniaturisation of chips, nanomaterials and thin films are moving more into the focus of manufacturing companies. However, suitable measuring methods for reliably determining the quality of these materials are still lacking and thus their full potential remains untapped.
This is where BAM's research comes in. "We operate one of the leading European research laboratories for spectroscopic and optical methods in the nanoscale," says Andreas Hertwig, head of the three projects at BAM. "What is unique is that we combine different imaging methods to precisely characterise nanomaterials. For example, we can measure electronic and optical properties or the behaviour of the materials under extreme conditions."
In the PowerElec project, semiconductors with a wide bandgap are being studied. They deliver lower energy losses at higher power. Electronic devices that use these new materials have lower energy consumption and at the same time can be built smaller and lighter than before. This is important for e-mobility and feeding renewable energies into the power grid, for example. However, the advantages of these materials cannot currently be reaped due to their susceptibility to defects. The aim of the PowerElec project is to develop measurement techniques that can detect possible defects already during production.
New technologies such as autonomous driving and virtual reality depend on fast microchips. Innovative processes with extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) or thin layers should enable more powerful, energy-efficient and cost-effective chips. However, their optical properties are usually difficult to measure and therefore often not known exactly. The ATMOC project aims to use spectroscopic methods to optically characterise nanocoatings and develop traceable measurement methods for them. BAM will combine measurement methods with high spatial resolution and a broad spectral range for this purpose.
Finally, electrical conductivity also plays a key role in chip technology - the higher it is, the more powerful and energy-efficient a device is. The ELENA project focuses on new nanomaterials and processes that increase the electrical properties of semiconductors. The most important of these properties are conductivity and permittivity, which is polarizability in an electric field. However, reliable characterisation of these properties at the nanoscale has so far been costly, complex and often unreliable, as measurements are performed with different instruments. The project aims to make such measurements traceable for the first time. To this end, the team aims to develop low-cost scanning probe microscopy instruments and reference standards, as well as robust calibration methods and guidelines for scientific practice.
The three research projects are funded by the European Union within the framework of the European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research (EMPIR) with funds from the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation.
This article was first published on 5 April by BAM.