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NIST announces insulator material testing breakthrough

Posted: 22 Oct 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:insulators? metal wires? microprocessors? silicon dioxide? fluorinated silicate glass?

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a method that will allow semiconductor manufacturers to test potential materials used as insulators for metal wires connecting devices on future microprocessors.

According to NIST researchers, as chip size decreases, current insulating materials such as silicon dioxide and fluorinated silicate glass are being stretched to their limits. With that, they add that material suppliers are now developing nanoporous films that are interspersed with holes measuring about 5nm or less in diameter, however, by introducing air bubbles, materials that exhibit better insulating performance are created, but are changing other important material properties as well.

"An ideal replacement for silicon dioxide would provide the desired level of insulation without compromising barrier properties," said Barry Bauer of the NIST Polymers Division. "The more fully we can characterize the pore structure and properties of these nanoporous materials, the more straightforward the search becomes," he added.

The new method developed by the NIST uses a neutron scattering technique to determine the size and volume fraction of pores, the connectivity among pores, and the density of the underlying matrix. Its contrast-matching procedure involves pumping solvent vapor mixtures into a special flowthrough chamber containing a sample of nanoporous thin films.

NIST explains that the vapor condenses into the pores, permitting neutron scattering measurements that probe the film density while yielding valuable information about pore connectivity. The neutron scattering technique can also detect nanometer-sized inhomogeneities that are present in the composition of the matrix.

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