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Nuclear Fusion Research Key to Advancing Computer Chips

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Nuclear engineer Ahmed Hassanein, in his Purdue University lab, is adapting fusion-energy research methods to develop a new type of "nanolithography" for creating future computer chips.

Credit: Purdue University/Vincent Walter

Scientists at Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory are adapting the same methods used in fusion-energy research to develop a new class of nanolithography for use in the creation of next-generation computer chips. The researchers say that nanolithography will be needed to continue advances in computing technology and to extend Moore's Law.

"We can't make devices much smaller using conventional lithography, so we have to find ways of creating beams having more narrow wavelengths," says Purdue professor Ahmed Hassanein. The plasma-based lithography in development generates extreme ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 13.5 nanometers, less than one-tenth the size of current lithography.

The researchers are working on two techniques for producing plasma, with one approach using a laser and the other a discharge-produced method using an electrical current. In both cases, only about 1% to 2% of the energy used is converted into plasma.

"We are involved in optimizing conversion efficiency—reducing the energy requirements—and solving various design problems for the next-generation lithography," Hassanein says.

The research involves using an advanced computer simulation called HEIGHTS, developed by Hassanein's team. One HEIGHTS simulation can take several months to run on Argonne's supercomputers. HEIGHTS simulates the entire process of the plasma evolution, including the laser interacting with the target and the target evaporating, ionizing, and turning into a plasma.

From Purdue University News
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