Illinois ECE researchers develop novel low cost photolithographic technique offering potential to significantly advance microfabrication field
A novel low cost photolithographic (writing with light) technique has been developed by Illinois ECE Post-Doctoral Research Associate Andrey Mironov, Professor James Gary Eden, and Engineering Teaching Lab Coordinator Dane Joseph Sievers. A startup company licensed this technology and started manufacturing low cost high resolution photolithographic tools for universities and R&D.
This technology offers the potential to significantly advance microfabrication, microfluidics, polymer optics, and other fields. In their work, a simple photolithographic system operating at 172 nm has been demonstrated at a fraction of the cost of the old lamp systems. This new system offers a resolution that is a factor of two smaller than the best resolution offered by the mercury lamp systems. Compared to the newer, deep-UV lasers systems, the cost of the 172 nm lamp technology is less expensive by a factor of at least 1,000-10,000 (3-4 orders of magnitude).
Photolithography is the process by which circuits and electronic devices are "patterned" (i.e., laid out) in sophisticated chips such as those manufactured by Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm. Photolithography allows one to specify where transistors, for example, and other electronic components are located on the chip and how electrical current will be routed.
Unfortunately, the race to build smaller and smaller electronic devices has resulted in the cost of photolithographic systems rising so rapidly that they are now accessible to only a few of the largest companies worldwide. The "long and the short" of this situation is that small companies and researchers have had little access to photolithographic technology for quite a while. In addition to improving the resolution and significantly lowering the cost of a photolithigraphic system, this technique allows for a substitution of low cost safe polymers for toxic and expensive chemicals.