I came across an interesting interview with Dr. Simon Elliott from the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, who was part of an EU-funded project called REALISE (Rare Earth Oxide Atomic Layer Deposition for Innovation in Electronics), which ended in 2009. (Why the EU is so enthralled with the use of acronyms for its research projects continues to bewilder me.)
What Elliot describes is the application of rare earth oxides used in combination with ALD to boost memory chip capabilities. With at least one near-commercial application of the research expected to be “a one terabyte USB stick in the near future.” The EU project started out humbly enough with the aim of seeing what was possible if they started using rare earth oxides in combination with an ALD. Elliot and his team at Tyndall were given the charge of determining the properties of these rare earth oxides and discovered, for instance, that one of the materials they tested possesses insulating properties three times better than alumina, the previous best material for this purpose. What this translates into is that if the insulating properties are three times better, you can make the devices three times smaller. It seems a good portion of the research was devoted to seeing how the new materials worked when being applied on 3D structures for capacitors with ALD. The aim, of course, is that if use structures in 3D then you use up less surface area of the wafer. What I found intriguing about Elliot’s interview was his mention of the “project partners” belief that any extra associated costs with this method of using the materials on 3D structures for capacitors would be more than outweighed by the benefits derived. So just out of curiosity I took a look at who the commercial partners on the project were. Among the larger companies were STMicroelectronics, Infineon Technologies and Philips Electronics. Could we see one or all of these offering a commercial product based on this research soon?
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.
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