Techniques - lithography

Lithography, which is also called optical lithography or UV lithography, is a process used in microfabrication to pattern parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photomask to a light-sensitive chemical "photoresist", or simply "resist," on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then either engraves the exposure pattern into the material or enables deposition of a new material in the desired pattern upon the material underneath the photo resist. For example, in complex integrated circuits, a modern CMOS wafer will go through the photolithographic cycle up to 50 times. Photolithography shares some fundamental principles with photography in that the pattern in the etching resist is created by exposing it to light, either directly (without using a mask) or with a projected image using an optical mask. This procedure is comparable to a high precision version of the method used to make printed circuit boards. Subsequent stages in the process have more in common with etching than with lithographic printing. It is used because it can create extremely small patterns (down to a few tens of nanometers in size), it affords exact control over the shape and size of the objects it creates, and because it can create patterns over an entire surface cost-effectively. Its main disadvantages are that it requires a flat substrate to start with, it is not very effective at creating shapes that are not flat, and it can require extremely clean operating conditions. Photolithography is the standard method of printed circuit board (PCB) and microprocessor fabrication.

A single iteration of photolithography combines several steps in sequence. The procedure described here omits some advanced treatments, such as thinning agents or edge-bead removal.

If organic or inorganic contaminations are present on the wafer surface, they are usually removed by wet chemical treatment, e.g. the RCA clean procedure based on solutions containing hydrogen peroxide. Other solutions made with trichloroethylene, acetone or methanol can also be used to clean.

Surface Preparation
The wafer is initially heated to a temperature sufficient to drive off any moisture that may be present on the wafer surface, 150 °C for ten minutes is sufficient. Wafers that have been in storage must be chemically cleaned to remove contamination. A liquid or gaseous "adhesion promoter", typically silanes such as Bis(trimethylsilyl)amine ("hexamethyldisilazane", HMDS), is applied to promote adhesion of the photoresist to the wafer. The surface layer of silicon dioxide on the wafer reacts with HMDS to form tri-methylated silicon-dioxide, a highly water repellent layer not unlike the layer of wax on a car's paint. This water repellent layer prevents the aqueous developer from penetrating between the photoresist layer and the wafer's surface, thus preventing so-called lifting of small photoresist structures in the (developing) pattern. In order to ensure the development of the image, it is best covered and placed over a hot plate and let it dry while stabilizing the temperature at 120 °C.

Photoresist application
The wafer is covered with photoresist by spin coating. A viscous, liquid solution of photoresist is dispensed onto the wafer, and the wafer is spun rapidly to produce a uniformly thick layer. The spin coating typically runs at 1000 to 6000 rpm for 30 to 60 seconds, and produces a thin uniform layer. This uniformity can be explained by detailed fluid-mechanical modelling, which shows that the resist moves much faster at the top of the layer than at the bottom, where viscoelastic forces bind the resist to the wafer surface. Thus, the top layer of resist is quickly ejected from the wafer's edge while the bottom layer still creeps slowly radially along the wafer leaving a very flat layer. Final thickness is also determined by the evaporation of liquid solvents from the resist. For very small, dense features (< ~125 nm), lower resist thicknesses (< 0.5 um) are needed to overcome collapse effects at high aspect ratios; typical aspect ratios are <= 4:1. The photo resist-coated wafer is then prebaked to drive off excess photoresist solvent, typically at 90 to 100 °C for 30 to 60 seconds on a hotplate.

Exposure and developing After prebaking, the photoresist is exposed to a pattern of intense light. The exposure to light causes a chemical change that allows some of the photoresist to be removed by a special solution, called "developer" by analogy with photographic developer. Positive photoresist, the most common type, becomes soluble in the developer when exposed; with negative photoresist, unexposed regions are soluble in the developer.

A post-exposure bake (PEB) is performed before developing, typically to help reduce standing wave phenomena caused by the destructive and constructive interference patterns of the incident light. In deep ultraviolet lithography, chemically amplified resist (CAR) chemistry is used. This process is much more sensitive to PEB time, temperature, and delay, as most of the "exposure" reaction (creating acid, making the polymer soluble in the basic developer) actually occurs in the PEB.

The develop chemistry is performed in a beaker using immersion techniques. Developers originally often contained sodium hydroxide (NaOH), however, sodium is a contaminant in certain silicon IC fabrication so metal-ion-free developers such as tetramethylammonium hydroxide(TMAH) are now used.

The resulting wafer is then "hard-baked" if a non-chemically amplified resist was used, typically at 120 to 180 °C for 20 to 30 minutes. The hard bake solidifies the remaining photoresist, to make a more durable protecting layer in future ion implantation, wet chemical etching, or plasma etching.

Main article: Etching (microfabrication)

In etching, a liquid ("wet") or plasma ("dry") chemical agent removes the uppermost layer of the substrate in the areas that are not protected by photoresist. In semiconductor fabrication, dry etching techniques are generally used, as they can be made anisotropic, in order to avoid significant undercutting of the photoresist pattern. This is essential when the width of the features to be defined is similar to or less than the thickness of the material being etched (i.e. when the aspect ratio approaches unity). Wet etch processes are generally isotropic in nature, which is often indispensable for microelectromechanical systems, where suspended structures must be "released" from the underlying layer.

The development of low-defectivity anisotropic dry-etch process has enabled the ever-smaller features defined photolithographically in the resist to be transferred to the substrate material.

Photoresist removal
After a photoresist is no longer needed, it must be removed from the substrate. This usually requires a liquid "resist stripper", which chemically alters the resist so that it no longer adheres to the substrate. Alternatively, photoresist may be removed by a plasma containing oxygen, which oxidizes it. This process is called ashing, and resembles dry etching. Use of 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) solvent for photoresist is another method used to remove an image. When the resist has been dissolved, the solvent can be removed by heating to 80 °C without leaving any residue.

The following is a list of NanoFab's lithography tools and their capabilities:

Optical lithography

  • EVG 620 Aligner – Front-side and back-side mask alignment with pattern resolution and alignment accuracy of ~ 1 micron. Sample tooling for small pieces up to 6 inch wafers.
  • OAI Model 800 Aligner – Full optical front-side and back-side mask alignment with pattern resolution and alignment accuracy of ~ 1 micron. Sample tooling for small pieces up to 8 inch wafers.
  • GCA 8500 Stepper – Step-and-repeat exposure system with pattern resolution of 0.83 micron and alignment accuracy of +- 0.15 micron. Sample tooling for 10 x 10 mm up to 100mm diameter and 200 to 800 micron thick substrates.

Electron beam lithography

  • JEOL 6000 Electron Beam Lithography – 50keV electron beam system with pattern resolution of 20-30 nm and alignment accuracy of 40 nm. Sample tooling for small pieces (5 x 5 mm to 20 x 20 mm), 4, 6, 8 inch wafers and 5” mask plates.

Photoresist coaters

  • CEE Spinner 1 and 2 – Hand dispense resist coater up to 6000 rpm, pieces up to 8” wafers.
  • SCS Spinner – Hand dispense resist coater.