This is all made possible by current prototypes of electron microscopes. Three of these leading-edge systems are now located in a brand-new electron microscopy center at the Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing (IZFP) in Dresden, Germany.
Here, Carl Zeiss is collaborating with the IZFP in order to drive the further development of these electron microscopes. Aside from Dresden, comparable systems only exist in the German city of Bonn and at Harvard University.
In Dresden they are not being used for basic research, but for the extremely detailed testing of microchips. The structures of these electrical components for computers, cell phones, cars and many other products are becoming smaller and smaller, with some currently displaying widths of just 22 millionths of a millimeter. A comparison: a human hair is about 2,000 times as thick. The biggest problem at the moment is not the actual production of the chips, but their quality inspection. Considering the around 600 production steps needed to create a microchip — a process that can take days or even weeks to complete — this is very important for early defect detection and removal.
However, chips are not just getting smaller, but their complexity is also increasing. Developers are working on three-dimensional microprocessors, for example, in which various layers are superimposed. Especially for this purpose, the researchers at the Dresden institute are developing and testing new analytical and testing methods with the aid of electron microscopes. If these structures can be implemented in production, this would represent a true technical revolution. The probable result would be a considerable improvement in both the performance of computers or cell phones and in the efficiency of household appliances and production machinery.
May 19, 2010