Harriot-Watt University and ASML partner on light sources for lithography

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ASML uses light to print tiny patterns onto silicon during the mass production of semiconductor chips. credit: ASML

A research team from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland is partnering with semiconductor giant ASML to develop new optical metrology light sources for chip manufacturing.

In a five-year collaboration partly funded by ASML, Professor John Travers’ research into fundamental physics will be accelerated, creating a direct route from lab to market for new laser technologies.

ASML manufactures semiconductor lithography machines. Based in the Netherlands, the company uses light to print tiny patterns onto silicon, resulting in the mass production of semiconductor chips. Precision is key to the printing technique, and light-based optical metrology is used to determine the exact measurements required. Developments in this field allow top chipmakers to create better performing, cheaper chips.

Due to the value of each multimillion machine, ASML continues to explore new directions for its technology to take.

The partnership has resulted in a new laboratory at Heriot-Watt University, which will accelerate the industrialisation of fundamental physics research. Professor Travers’ current focus is on new broad bandwidth light sources for optical metrology. The sensors in ASML’s machines must work at multiple wavelengths because they encounter various materials, each of which absorb in different ways.

Professor Travers’ team has already delivered several ideas that have been patented.

Professor Travers said: ‘The type of optical components used in recent research previously sat in the domain of fundamental physics research. Working in close cooperation with ASML is rapidly moving our work in the direction of the industrialisation of this technology, where we are addressing specific engineering challenges, and applying the technique to create real world impact.

‘My research into fundamental physics can be used by ASML in an industry setting… through this industrial partnership, we are addressing specific real-world engineering challenges, with industry and academia learning from each other.”

Application of the advances in light source technologies are not limited to semiconductor chip manufacture. There are also valuable uses for the technique in healthcare technology and precision manufacturing.

Hein Otto Folkerts, vice-president within development and engineering at ASML, said: ‘Our collaboration with Professor Travers and Heriot-Watt University will complement ASML’s research agenda, supporting our technology roadmap. This group at Heriot-Watt is one of the leading groups in the world working on these kinds of light sources and has a track record on innovations.’

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