SAN JOSE, Calif. International Sematech's senior fellow for lithography offered an upbeat assessment of the prospects for the emerging nanotechnology business during the Semicon West Forum here.
Walt Trybula argued that fulfilling the promise of nanotechnology will require a huge effort in infrastructure an effort akin to building the semiconductor infrastructure all over again.
The first task is to define nanotechnology "People argue about at what size the nano world begins," Trybula said. "But I don't define it by feature size. I think it is more useful to say that the nano world begins where, as you shrink feature sizes, the bulk properties of a material cease to apply."
For example, Trybula said, common materials change their characteristics dramatically as particle size decreases. "Nano is a different world."
As the chip industry moves to the 65-nm process node, more details of IC manufacturing and chip behavior are being pushed into the nano world. For example, a copper particle or interconnect in the region of tens of nanometers can have entirely different melting point and resistivity from bulk copper. This becomes an immediate issue for IC designers as the width of interconnect lines reaches 50 nm. Suddenly, grain size and surface roughness in the copper become dominant factors in the resistance of the line.
Trybula said that as microelectronics enters the realm of nano rules, the chip industry will be forced to build an infrastructure to cope with the new effects. The infrastructure could be just what the nanotechnology industry needs to move out of the laboratory phase and into the realm of useful, manufacturable devices.
"This transition doesn't happen overnight," Trybula said. "There were at least 15 years between the first transistor and the first production IC. Expect nanotechnology to take about that long 10 or 15 years of investment and very hard work."