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The Stuff of Sandcastles and Semiconductors
Guest Author: Lisa Herrmann
Sand and water are basic elements that have drawn the human imagination to create a multitude of beachside sculptures, but in Chandler these substances are the basis of some of the smallest microchips ever developed. Arizona SciTech Festival’s Bronze level sponsor, ASML, is the world’s leading provider of lithography systems for the semiconductor industry, manufacturing complex machines that are critical to the production of microchips. ASML designs, develops, integrates, and services these advanced systems, which continue to help chipmakers reduce the size and increase the functionality of microchips and consumer electronic equipment.
The manufacturing process begins by converting sand into a silicon crystal that is sliced into wafers. The wafers are polished flat, cleaned and sent to a wafer processing fabrication facility – ‘the Fab’. The Fab is a multi-billion dollar chipmaking plant built around a cleanroom; ASML notes, ‘the cleanest and one of the most controlled environments on earth.’ Lithography is the process responsible for projecting small electronic features onto the silicon wafers. R&D efforts at ASML have included the process of ‘immersion lithography’, described as ‘an excellent trick to make chips smaller and more powerful.’ The process involves adding water between the lens and the wafer. The water bends the light in such a way as to get more light onto the wafer and improve the image it creates, allowing sharper lines and smaller features. ASML’s most advanced immersion systems can image lines just 38 nanometers wide! Thanks to ASML’s lithographic systems, ever-shrinking microchips have brought better, more affordable and more energy-efficient electronics and services to everyone, improving mobility, connectivity, safety, and digital entertainment.
ASML’s senior communications specialist Michael Pullen is proud of these efforts, and eager to support the next generation of scientists in our community. “We are looking forward to being involved with a great program like the AZ SciTech Festival and all the activities around it. STEM education is something that ASML cares deeply about and is evident in our ASML4Kids program where we teach STEM principles to students of all ages through fun, interactive lessons.”