Slideshow: The Art of Failure

Chip defect imagery for fevered imaginations

PHOTO: Serene Thew

This miniature version of an ancient Egyptian pyramid is actually a fault in a chip package.

Last week, at the IEEE's 15th International Symposium on the Physical and Failure Analysis of Integrated Circuits, in Singapore, participants brought pictures of some of the odd, cute, and even scary things they've found during chip examinations and autopsies. The ten winning pictures, evidently selected as much for evocativeness as instructiveness, follow.

PHOTO: Seng Hin Tan

A metal flower growing in silicon oxide soil? This was discovered during a routine scan with an electron microscope. Further analysis showed that the flowerlike structure contained aluminum.

PHOTO: Jacqueline Kwa

The evil-looking ginger bread man—arising from a cross section of melted metal lines—was found with a focused ion beam. An FIB is similar to a scanning electron microscope, except that it scans the sample with gallium ions, instead of electrons.

PHOTO: Mei Chyn Ong

A failure mode called ”contact non-wet” occurred in this flip chip. A solder ball did not join properly with its solder pad, producing the turtlelike figure between the ball and pad.

PHOTO: Chia-Lung Lin

With a little imagination, you can make out a singing frog in this chip. A tungsten titanium particle caused the frog… and a short in the chip.

PHOTO: Nagendra Sekhar Vasarla

The discoverer of this ghoulish failure dubbed it ”Copper Mummy in a Silicon Coffin.” The copper was supposed to fill the vertical channel, or via, to produce a working chip interconnect.

PHOTO: Jean Carla Fernandez

When metal freezes it forms dendrites resembling ferns or snowflakes. These were found with a scanning electron microscope on the leads of a chip package.

PHOTO: Xiang Li

You might not expect a transistor with such a big hole in it to work, but it does. The hole, located at the metal oxide semiconductor junction, is filled with amorphous silicon and blocks the flow of current from the gate into the substrate.

PHOTO: Budiman Salam

Human error can sometimes lead to art. Here, the aperture of a microscope lens was opened too wide when examining a structure, forming the dragon-head image.


This laser optical image was done through the back side of a chip. The eye structure at the center is a solid immersion lens, which has a higher magnification than common lenses.