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Seeing beyond CMOS: Turning blueprints to reality

Posted: 17 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Imec  CMOS  IC technology  FinFET  nanotechnology 

A number of research institutes worldwide have scientists developing the next IC technology. They are pushing the existing technology to its limits and are preparing for the era beyond CMOS. At the same time, they look at new application domains including healthcare, and see how IC technology might be adapted to these new uses.

Marc Heyns, fellow at the European nanotech powerhouse Imec, sketches the R&D environment and sees a need for people with open, multidisciplinary minds. For a scientist and technologist like myself these are exciting times. There are so many ideas floating around that we want to test and try out; see if we can put them to use and if we can build a technology from them.

Marc Heyns

Of course, we need these ideas now. Because scaling has become so much more challenging; because we would like to put CMOS to work in new domains; and because we already have to think about the period beyond CMOS.

And we need many ideas. Because only a few of them will survive the hard question: can we make them into a technology? I always say to my students: "nano is the easy part of 'nanotechnology', technology is so much harder."

Ideas may seem so elegant and easy on paper and even in the lab, but that is just the start of it. Take carbon nanotubes. It's relatively easy nowadays to demonstrate a single CNT device in the lab. But scaling this to a technology where you need a billion devices all neatly arranged and without defects, that is a different business. And that is what we're doing at Imec; that is our business.

Taking an idea to technology is usually a long path. Using high-mobility materials in transistors is another example. It has taken us already 12 years from idea to where we are today. That is a typical timespan, not many ideas come to fruition faster.

Along that path we need multidisciplinary people, more than ever. To build something new, be it technology, systems or applications, we now need large teams with widely varying specialisations. But it is essential that these people understand each other: that a technologist knows what a designer does, that an application specialist knows what a system engineer does. And that all have an intimate knowledge of what is possible in a given technology.

The upcoming Beyond CMOS course introduces a number of concepts and techniques that are under development. It is an ideal way for PhD researchers and for engineers to look beyond their own specialisation and get to know what may become part of their job in the future.

The concepts that are closest to becoming reality are those that stretch the current path of CMOS scaling as far as possible.

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