Sunscreen for Semiconductors

Share this post:

Editor’s note: This article is Geraud Dubois, IBM Research’s manager of Hybrid Polymeric Materials.

Scientists at IBM Research – Almaden have developed a sunscreen for microprocessors called Post Porosity Plasma Protection. Lathered on a chip, it is the next leap in materials that improve speed and performance.

In the last 20 years, miniaturization has driven the improvement of chip performance, and the resulting boom in consumer electronics. In the last 10 years, this strategy has been combined with the implementation of novel materials such as insulators, to increase speed, reduce power consumption, protect wiring from short circuits and electrical interference.

Just as the chips shrink, the conducting wires get smaller and closer to each other. This means the insulator has to keep pace.  The typical solution adopted by the chip industry has been to introduce air (an excellent insulator) in the form of extremely small bubbles or “pores” (1/100,000 the size of a human hair) into the insulator – making the chip surface look like Swiss cheese.

Solving the insulation problem with plasma

Unfortunately, many more air bubbles are needed to reach the desired insulating properties in the most advanced microprocessors in enterprise or consumer applications. This produces an insulator that resembles more of an air-tunnel network instead of a Swiss cheese-type structure.

To compound the problem of air tunneling, a chip’s wiring damages the insulator by penetrating these air channels. This damages the insulator – reducing its insulating properties.

Post Porosity Plasma Protection solves this issue by overcoming power leakage problems at near-atomic design nodes, and shields semiconductor chips from severe physical and structural damage during the wire patterning and processing steps during manufacturing.

The technique uses the absence of matter in absorbent material to form between the chip’s wires, allowing electrical signals to flow faster while consuming less electrical power. Once the electrical wiring is put in place, the “sunscreen” is removed by simply heating the structure, thus liberating the undamaged air channels.

If you’re in the Bay Area on April 10, come to the Materials Research Society Show at the Moscone West Convention Center and we’ll tell you all about it!

More stories

A new supercomputing-powered weather model may ready us for Exascale

In the U.S. alone, extreme weather caused some 297 deaths and $53.5 billion in economic damage in 2016. Globally, natural disasters caused $175 billion in damage. It’s essential for governments, business and people to receive advance warning of wild weather in order to minimize its impact, yet today the information we get is limited. Current […]

Continue reading

DREAM Challenge results: Can machine learning help improve accuracy in breast cancer screening?

        Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is estimated that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that 99 percent of women whose breast cancer was detected early (stage 1 or 0) survive beyond five years after […]

Continue reading

Computational Neuroscience

New Issue of the IBM Journal of Research and Development   Understanding the brain’s dynamics is of central importance to neuroscience. Our ability to observe, model, and infer from neuroscientific data the principles and mechanisms of brain dynamics determines our ability to understand the brain’s unusual cognitive and behavioral capabilities. Our guest editors, James Kozloski, […]

Continue reading