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Albany NanoTech and AMD Team Up to Develop Breakthrough Silicon Measurement Technique

by Shonna Keogan and Greta Petry (December 10, 2004)

Robert Geer will supervise Albany Nanotech's collaboration with Advanced Micro Devices, the goal of which is to find a method to measure stress levels in strained silicon, the base material in high-performance microchips.

Robert Geer will supervise Albany Nanotech's collaboration with Advanced Micro Devices, the goal of which is to find a method to measure stress levels in strained silicon, the base material in high-performance microchips.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is targeted at helping AMD find answers to some fundamental research questions, according to Robert Geer, associate professor of nanoscience at the University at Albany’s new College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE).

The collaboration, announced November 9, represents the first industrial partnership for the college.

The goal is to find a new method to measure stress levels in strained silicon, the base material in high-performance microchips. Geer will supervise the project.

Straining silicon makes electrons flow more quickly through transistors, enhancing performance of semiconductors while reducing energy usage. The new technique seeks to enable the stress state in strained silicon to be measured with a target spatial resolution better than 10 nanometers, a critical capability for controlling and improving the performance in semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs).

The first developmental implementation for nano-optical measurements will be assembled at Albany NanoTech, which houses the CNSE.

AMD personnel from AMD-Saxony’s Materials Analysis Laboratory in Dresden, Germany, will participate directly in the research at Albany NanoTech. Findings will be relayed directly to the Dresden laboratory to characterize the performance of transistors for future technology nodes, which are expected to be manufactured in AMD’s upcoming 300-millimeter computer chip plant in Dresden.

“This type of research hinges on having the right talent at the right facility, and Albany NanoTech has that critical combination of infrastructure and expertise,” said David Kyser, director of external research, AMD Technology Development in Sunnyvale, Calif. “By joining with Albany NanoTech, we’ve found a cost-effective way to stay on the cutting edge in this area of nanoscale research.”

President of Albany NanoTech and Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of CNSE Alain Kaloyeros said, “Our collaboration with AMD is a perfect example of how leading companies in the semiconductor industry are recognizing the clear value proposition of Albany NanoTech, which provides the benefit of our extensive facilities while working with researchers on the forefront of the field through the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. We believe this model is the perfect formula for enhancing New York’s high-tech economy.”

Straining silicon compresses the atoms in the crystal and is like “pushing billiard balls more closely together,” said Geer, who added that compressing the silicon crystal in the transistor can make its electrons move 30 to 40 percent more quickly, resulting in a faster transistor.

“One critical issue in nanotechnology is that it is hard to measure how close the atoms are to each other when you get to nano-sized structures,” Geer said. “The mechanics just work differently when one is measuring material that may be from 10 to 100 atoms in size.”

The project will focus on near-field nano-optical techniques, exploiting the enhancement of the optical field at a nanoprobe tip. “We are probing areas that are smaller than the wavelength of light,” Geer said. “So we need to use some tricks to confine the light to these length scales. Near-field nano-optics allows us to do this.” This new technique would facilitate more accurate stress measurements in high- performance chips, helping chip manufacturers to reduce costs as well as time to market for leading-edge microprocessors.

The most obvious application of strained silicon is in building a faster chip.

“The first person to market with faster chips will stand to make the most profit. So the people at AMD want to get their new chips to market as soon as possible. But the fundamental science of this project, which centers on Raman spectroscopy, can be broadly applied. For example, we are working on other aspects of this technique with Professor Igor Lednev of the Department of Chemistry, who is an expert on Raman scattering,” said Geer, noting that this is an example of the interdisciplinary nature of CNSE, which opened this fall.

Raman spectroscopy permits scientists to study vibrations in molecules and crystals through the interaction of light with the vibrations. “Some of the energy of a photon sets off a quantum of vibration, a phonon, in the material. Due to energy conservation, the photon leaves with less energy than it came with – its color is shifted towards the red, or longer, wavelengths,” notes The Optics Laboratory on the Web.

This slight change in color can be measured to find the energy of the vibration in a molecule or, in the case of crystalline silicon, to determine the strain.

Geer noted that AMD-Saxony researchers were at Albany NanoTech last year, and, more recently, an AMD-Saxony engineer spent two months working in the CNSE labs. “We are also planning to send students to work in their labs in the very near future,” he said.

Geer added there is much symmetry between Dresden and Albany in that both are sites of tremendous growth in the high-tech industry. Dresden is the capital of the German state of Saxony. The minister-president of Saxony, Dr. Georg Milbradt, visited the CNSE in July of this year. As a result of that visit, the CNSE and the Technische Universität in Dresden are working to formalize collaborations in various areas of nanoelectronics and nanotechnology.