China is planning a ‘Silicon Valley’ to rival that of the west and this is being underpinned by investment of $20-30 billion into 25 new semiconductor fab construction projects. Professor Carsten Welsch, Head of the University of Liverpool Physics Department, comments that each of the new fabrication plants will require a particle accelerator - demonstrating the economic importance of this technology.
He says: “Over recent years China has seen an explosion of innovation in integrated circuit (IC) design - the chips that are used in a vast range of products. Not only is this generating demand for products and services that support the semiconductor industry, but it will also drive innovation in accelerator science. Customers want ever greater precision in the beams to improve quality and allow the miniaturisation of devices.”
Plans for the Future Circular Collider (FCC), the successor to the Large Hadron Collider, have just been announced by CERN and Liverpool is hosting an accelerator science symposium “Particle Colliders – Accelerating Innovation” that will explore latest developments in this field, the opportunities for industry and the career paths for young people.
Professor Welsch is also leader of the QUASAR Group based at the Cockcroft Institute, he comments that work by his group on optimising particle beams is creating the opportunity for a step change in IC design.
He says: “Fabricating an IC on a silicon wafer requires a series of steps to deposit special material layers on the wafer one at a time in precise amounts and patterns in a series of mask/etch, mask/deposit stages. The very precise, dedicated electron-beam lithography systems required for this process are very expensive (>US $1M) but even so still generate defects through backscattering and shaping errors. These errors can be expensive for the industry as they are hard to detect, but unfortunately, greater precision-beams are currently too slow for high-volume manufacturing.
“The techniques and technologies, being developed in the Quasar group, are improving the control and the shaping of the electron beams. This includes new modelling tools for more detailed simulations that help optimise beam shaping and control, as well as novel instruments that can monitor ever more precisely. We are also working on techniques that help reduce the size of accelerators to make superior quality beams more affordable.
“Within the semiconductor industry the cost of the cleanroom increases exponentially with every extra square metre of floor space, so reducing the cost and footprint of the accelerator will make them more accessible to industry.”
Opportunities for co-innovation between academia and industry are to be discussed at the Liverpool symposium, which is looking at the strategic R&D programme of the Future Circular Collider, including the technological innovations envisaged within the project and the benefits for industry in terms of project involvement and product commercialisation.