The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Chip Making’s Wet New World

A thin layer of water between the lens and the wafer will extend the life of chip making’s dominant technology, and may be worth hundreds of billions of dollars to an industry battling the limits of physics

11 min read
Illustration: Home Run Pictures

What a difference a year makes. Only 12 months ago, the future of lithography, the core technology of the multibillion-dollar-a-year business of making chips, seemed straightforward. Optical lithography, the technique of using light to print onto a silicon wafer the wires, transistor parts, and everything else that make up an integrated circuit, was about to go the way of the Model T. Pressed to the very limits of its ability to print the vanishingly narrow arrays of lines, spaces, and contacts needed for upcoming generations of ICs, it would soon be replaced by extreme ultraviolet lithography, a sleek new technology propelled by the considerable commercial momentum of Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.

But now, out of nowhere, a new technique has emerged that promises to breathe new life into optical lithography and put off until the next decade its replacement by extreme ultraviolet. And it seems to be just in time. In the semiconductor industry, where a good year’s sales add up to a quarter-trillion dollars, a three-year reprieve that lets researchers work out the kinks in the still-experimental technology of extreme ultraviolet lithography might just turn out to be the most timely and valuable pause in business history.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Fourth Generation Digitizers With Easy-to-Use API

Learn about the latest generation high-performance data acquisition boards from Teledyne

1 min read

In this webinar, we explain the design principles and operation of our fourth-generation digitizers with a focus on the application programming interface (API).

Register now for this free webinar!

Keep Reading ↓Show less