Boffins at MIT have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a photo lithography technique that they believe could change the way chips are made.
It seems the boffins thought that a process which was used to improve the resolution of optical microscopes might actually be co-opted into creating smaller features on computer chips.
According to the team, the approach allows complex shapes to be created and can be carried out using less expensive light sources and conventional chip manufacturing equipment.
Dr Trisha Andrew from MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics said that it was a doddle to set up because all the gear was already out there.
The system uses materials combined with sophisticated optics, to get large scale patterning. It is a development of stimulated emission depletion imaging, or STED, in which fluorescent materials emit light when hit by a laser. If the laser power falls below a certain level then the fluorescence stops and there is a dark patch.
So the boffins worked out that by controlling the laser’s power, a dark patch can be created which is much smaller than the wavelength of the laser light.
By mixing STED with another technique called absorbance modulation and replacing the fluorescent materials with a polymer whose molecules change shape in response to specific wavelengths of light they could build whole new chip features.