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Tomorrow's Transistor, Built Atom by Atom

• Katherine Bourzac via TechnologyReview.com

Applied Materials, the world's leading supplier of manufacturing equipment to chipmakers, has announced a new system for making one of the most critical layers of the transistors found in logic circuits.

Applied Materials' new tool, called Centura, announced at the Semicon West conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, deposits a critical layer in transistors one atom at a time, providing unprecedented precision.

As chipmakers scale transistors down to ever-smaller sizes, enabling speedier and more power-efficient electronics, atomic-scale manufacturing precision is a growing concern. The first chips with transistors just 22 nanometers in size are going into production this year, and at that size, even the tiniest inconsistencies can mean that a chip intended to sell at a premium must instead be used for low-end gadgetry.

Transistors are made up of multiple layers: an active silicon material topped with an interfacing layer and then a layer of a material called a dielectric, which makes up the "gate" that switches the transistor on and off.

 

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