Lightning Rods for Nanoelectronics [Preview]
Electrostatic discharges threaten to halt further shrinking and acceleration of electronic devices in the future
Processes as simple as a person walking across carpet can produce high voltages of electrostatic charge. Modern microelectronics is extremely sensitive and can be ruined by the pulse of electricity of an electrostatic discharge (ESD) that can occur from mere handling of a chip.
Discharges melt metal and silicon and can punch holes into insulating layers. Modern ESD protection includes the use of sturdier materials and a variety of extra on-chip circuitry to divert discharges away from active elements.
Devices become more sensitive to discharges with each generation of smaller circuitry, making ESD protection an ongoing challenge. Failure to meet that challenge would halt the progress of miniaturization and higher performance.
Image: SLIM FILMS
We're all familiar with electrostatic charge: shuffle across a shag carpet in sneakers, touch a piece of metal, and zap. The slight prick we feel--caused when the electric charge built up by the shuffling suddenly leaps to another object--is nothing compared with what modern electronic equipment experiences.
On a dry winter day, walking on a new carpet can generate a whopping 35,000-volt discharge. We are not harmed by this high voltage, because the amount of charge that flows is puny. Still, it is large enough to destroy sensitive micro-electronic components. Researchers have come up with clever ways to prevent such damage. But as circuits get smaller, they become more sensitive to electrostatic discharge (ESD) and the old tricks no longer work. Can we continue to find new ways to prevent electrostatic damage and thereby maintain the pace of innovation?