New research to revolutionise chip manufacture
"A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors,"
Samuelson, a professor of semiconductor physics at Lund University, claimed.
The technology is expected to be ready for commercialisation in two to four years' time. A prototype for solar cells will be completed in two years.
"When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said 'you're out of your mind, Lars; that would never work'. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of," he said.
"The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a substrate from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down!"
Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted.
In the article, titled 'Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tuneable properties' in Nature, the researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold nanoparticles.
Recently, they have also built a prototype machine with a specially built oven. Using a series of ovens, the researchers expect to be able to 'bake' the nanowires, as the structures are called, and thereby develop multiple variants, such as p-n diodes.
A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.
"In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming," added Samuelson.
At the moment, the researchers are working to develop a good method to capture the nanowires and make them self-assemble in an ordered manner on a specific surface. This could be glass, steel or another material suited to the purpose.
However, the Lund researchers have a head start thanks to their parallel research based on an innovative method in the manufacture of nanowires on semiconductor wafers, known as epitaxy – consequently, the researchers have chosen to call the new method aerotaxy. Instead of sculpting structures out of silicon or another semiconductor material, the structures are instead allowed to develop, atomic layer by atomic layer, through controlled self-organisation.
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