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Semiconductor Thin Film Design Optimization

The ability to create perfect ultrathin films is central to the fabrication of semiconductor devices, the building blocks for modern computers, sensors, electronic equipment and more. As these devices get smaller, defects as small as a few atoms can have a devastating effect on performance. NIST’s advanced deposition monitoring and data analysis scheme provides semiconductor equipment manufacturers with information to better design their devices.

multicolor image of an intel 2nd generation core microprocessor
Credit: Intel Free Press // creative commons (

Semiconductor device fabrication begins with the deposition of extremely thin films of material on silicon wafers. These films are deposited one atomic layer at a time using a process called vapor deposition. Accurate measurements of these thin films and the conditions used to create them are becoming evermore critical as semiconductor devices such as those found in computer chips shrink. NIST partnered with chemical suppliers, deposition process tool manufacturers and others in industry to develop an advanced thin film deposition monitoring and data analysis scheme that provides a much-improved view of the systems and chemicals that form these ultrathin films.

The U.S. holds 48 percent of the $340 billion semiconductor industry global market. NIST provides this industry with essential measurement and data tools that help identify optimal manufacturing conditions. Vapor deposition thin film growth depends on controlled delivery of chemical precursors to the silicon wafer surface.

Semiconductor equipment manufacturers use NIST measurement methods and data analysis to improve their systems for optimal vapor deposition film growth. For example, NIST developed an optical system that monitors film growth in realtime, with significantly higher sensitivity compared with traditional approaches. With better monitoring systems, semiconductor manufacturers can more confidently explore the use of new chemical precursors and how layers of different films react with each other. The result is better “recipes” for films with the ideal properties.

NIST continues to expand and apply these measurement capabilities through an interdisciplinary approach that combines expertise in state-of-the-art optical methods with detailed reactor flow dynamics. This work helps companies to reduce the time required to develop new manufacturing processes, ramp up production and maintain high product yields.