Over the years, computer chips have gotten smaller thanks to advances in materials science and manufacturing technologies. This march of progress, the doubling of transistors on a microprocessor roughly every two years, is called Moore's Law. But there's one component of the chip-making process in need of an overhaul if Moore's law is to continue: the chemical mixture called photoresist. Similar to film used in photography, photoresist, also just called resist, is used to lay down the patterns of ever-shrinking lines and features on a chip.
Now, in a bid to continue decreasing transistor size while increasing computation and energy efficiency, chip-maker Intel has partnered with researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) to design an entirely new kind of resist. And importantly, they have done so by characterizing the chemistry of photoresist, crucial to further improve performance in a systematic way. The researchers believe their results could be easily incorporated by companies that make resist, and find their way into manufacturing lines as early as 2017.
The new resist effectively combines the material properties of two pre-existing kinds of resist, achieving the characteristics needed to make smaller features for microprocessors, which include better light sensitivity and mechanical stability.
The researchers say future work includes further optimizing the resist's chemical formula for the extremely small components required for tomorrow's microprocessors. The semiconductor industry is currently locking down its manufacturing processes for chips at the so-called 10-nanometer node. If all goes well, these resist materials could play an important role in the process and help Moore's Law persist.