wafer," said Liang Pan, a UC Berkeley graduate student working with Zhang and Bogy, and one of three co-lead authors of the Nature Nanotechnology paper. "However, the resolution possible with this technique is limited by the fundamental nature of light. To get a smaller feature size, you must use shorter and shorter light wavelengths, which dramatically increases the cost of manufacturing. Also, light has a diffraction limit restricting how small it can be focused. Currently, the minimum feature size with conventional photolithography is about 35 nanometers, but our technique is capable of a much higher resolution at a relatively low cost."
The UC Berkeley researchers chose a different approach to overcome the diffraction limit of light. They took advantage of a well-known property of metals: the presence at the surface of free electrons that oscillate when exposed to light. These oscillations, which absorb and generate light, are known as evanescent waves and are much smaller than the wavelength of light.
The engineers designed a silver plasmonic lens with concentric rings that concentrate the light to a hole in the center where it exits on the other side. In the experiment, the hole was less than 100 nanometers in diameter, but it can theoretically be as small as 5 to 10 nanometers. The researchers packed the lenses into a flying plasmonic head, so-called because it would "fly" above the photoresist surface during the lithography process.
Similar flying heads have been developed at UC Berkeley's Computer Mechanics Laboratory, which is directed by Bogy. "Flying heads support the phenomenal advances in data storage in hard disk drives," said Bogy. "They enable the fast speeds and nanometer accuracy required in this potentially new approach to semiconductor manufacturing."
The researchers said the flying head design could potentially hold as many as 100,000 lenses, enabling parallel writing for even faster production.
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