Open Competition 3 - Electronics and Photonics
Spintronics-Based High-Resolution, Non-Invasive, and Ultrafast Metrology for the Semiconductor Industry
Develop a nanoscale magnetic tunnel junction current-sensing system for integrated circuit inspection that will help maintain the U.S. lead in semiconductors by providing vastly improved metrology for in-process inspection.
Sponsor: Micro Magnetics, Inc.151 Martine St.
Fall River, MA 02723
New manufacturing processes for making semiconductor chips smaller and smaller have introduced new types of nanoscale faults that are buried in the ever-more-complex architectures of electronic integrated circuits (ICs). Before long, the most advanced technologies for fault isolation and failure analysis may be unable to cope adequately with new nanoscale IC features. Prior to ATP, Micro Magnetics had developed both a basic magnetic microscope for profiling current densities in ICs and its sensing element, a device called a magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ). This sensor is based on spintronics, the discipline that exploits the spin properties of the electron to develop a new generation of electronic devices. Micro Magnetics now proposes to develop an advanced system employing a magnetic microscope that exploits spintronics to detect and analyze nanoscale faults and abnormalities embedded in multilayered ICs in this three-year project. The system has three key modules: the motion hardware, the magnetic sensor and electronics, and the control and analysis software. At the heart of this technology is an array of ultrasensitive MTJ sensors that detect the microscopic magnetic fields emitted by an operating IC, which are then used to generate an image of the density and layout of the electrical currents within the IC. Using this scanning MTJ microscope, engineers can noninvasively pinpoint defects down to the smallest units, such as transistors and copper interconnects. The goal of this three-year project is to produce a fully integrated, ultrafast IC metrology system. Fabricating spintronic sensors with a spatial resolution of 20 nanometers and frequency responses of 0-6 GHz entails high risk. Developing a system that can scan ICs at production-line speed is another high risk. Venture-capital firms and private investors consider this project too risky at this stage to merit funding. ATP funding could accelerate the needed research by four years. For semiconductor manufacturers, annual savings from the improved yields attributable to the MTJ microscope system could exceed $1.5 billion. Additionally, this technology could remove a looming impediment to the growth and competitiveness of the $70 billion U.S. semiconductor industry by enabling chip miniaturization to continue.