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X-Rays Map the 3D Interior of Integrated Circuits

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This reconstruction illuminates layers of copper wiring (yellow) down to the transistor level inside an Intel G3260 processor.

A team of researchers based in Switzerland pointed X-rays at a piece of an Intel processor and were able to reconstruct the chips transistors and wiring in three dimensions.

Credit: Mirko Holler

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland have used x-rays to peer within commercial integrated circuits and reconstruct them in three dimensions.

The team used x-ray ptychography to aim the beam at a sample from various angles and employ the diffraction patterns to reconstruct the semiconductor's interior.

Researcher Gabriel Aeppli says the technique yields better resolution than other methods, and at a larger scale. The conventional industry-standard technique involves progressively removing the processor's layers and capturing electron microscope images of one small area of the chip at a time.

TechInsights' Dick James sees limitations to the Swiss team's work, including the need for a synchrotron source to generate the images.

Still, the University of Southern California's Anthony Levi says, "total transparency in chip manufacturing is on the horizon. This is going to force a rethink of what computing is."

From IEEE Spectrum
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