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Small but mighty

What do spintronics, fab utilities costs, high-k metal gates, BEOL cleaning, and light-emitting diodes have in common? They are all topics found among the features in this month’s MICRO.

I am proud of the content in each issue we publish, yet there is enough synergy, eclecticism, and downright solid content this time to merit one of the most clichéd of editor’s page themes—the issue in review.

While I try to be objective about the relative worth or interest level of our features, I must admit that my favorite contributed article this month is the exhaustive case study by Wayne Curcie and his team on their ongoing efforts to lower the utilities bill and reduce exhaust levels at the 200-mm fab in Richmond, VA, owned by Qimonda (that’s Infineon’s memory division’s ineffable new name). They have saved the company upwards of a cool million annually by optimizing clean dry air, cleanroom air, ultrapure water, and process cooling water consumption.

The conservation efforts described are not rocket science, but they do require perseverance and attention to detail. It’s the “roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and tap your calculator” kind of engineering work that often gets overshadowed by the supposedly more glamorous and exciting endeavors taking place in the R&D and process development realms. Yet it’s also the kind of work that has led to decreased operating and production costs at the fab, thus lowering the capital investment needed to ratchet up output and helping to smooth technology transitions. To see why Curcie and his colleagues should be nominated for the unsung-hero wing of the chipmaking hall of fame, check out their article beginning on page 33.

Two other features in this issue touch closer to rocket science, or at least future and current semiconductor-related nanoshenanigans: contributing editor John Conroy’s lead Industry News story on the Western Institute of Nanoelectronics (starting on page 12) and the Sematech team’s contributed technical article on the development of a new systematic approach to integrating high-k dielectrics and metal gate electrodes in CMOS devices (beginning on page 25). Conroy gets the skinny on the new California-based university-industry research initiative, headquartered at UCLA, which will aggressively examine the use of spintronics in post-CMOS applications. According to program head Kang Wang, Hans Coufal, and other researchers, with a little luck they could come up with a logic switch using electron spin within a few years.

The Sematech article, part of our ongoing FEOL-focused “Transistorama” series, features the collective brainpower of not one, not two, but nine PhD-holding authors, and a tenth coauthor who is finishing her doctorate. Their work offers a comprehensive overview of efforts at the consortium to understand how metal gate materials and their processing affect reliability and other device performance measures. While a comprehensive understanding is still elusive, they have made great strides in identifying which materials can be used successfully with hafnium-based high-k dielectrics.

Did you know that “the luminous output of LEDs [light-emitting diodes] has doubled every 18 to 24 months over the past 30 to 35 years, while their costs have decreased every decade by a factor of approximately 10 (20% per year)”? Or that the market for packaged high-brightness LEDs will reach $8 billion by 2010? I certainly didn’t until I read the latest column from our regular back-page “Reality Check” contributor, Bijan Moslehi. Once again, he has intertwined technology and economics to shed light—in this case, solid-state light—on a rapidly emerging sector of the microelectronics universe.

I also want to alert you to upcoming enhancements at By the time you read this, our blog should be up and running, and later this year we plan to add more functionality and new features to our Web site. But in the meantime, enjoy this small but mighty issue of MICRO, whether you’re checking us out online or holding the good ol’ fashioned print version in your hand.

Tom Cheyney

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