Since netting the 2005 EE Times ACE Award for Most Promising New Technology, Molecular Imprints Inc. has garnered support for its groundbreaking step-and-flash imprint lithography (S-FIL) among its peers, its expanding customer base and its funding sources. It has also pioneered two applications for the technology--solid-state lights and hard disks--and has demonstrated how CMOS chip makers can get to the 32-nanometer node more easily with S-FIL.
Step-and-flash imprint lithography is based on the ancient art of embossing, adapting the technique for nanoscale patterning of semiconductor wafers. A circuit pattern is embossed into a silicon dioxide (silica) "stamp," which is then stepped and pressed into a prepared layer on a silicon substrate. Illumination by an ultraviolet flash hardens the layer into the nanoscale circuit pattern, which then can be fabricated into devices using conventional CMOS etching and deposition.
"It was an honor to receive the EE Times ACE Award for Most Promising New Technology," said Michael Falcon, strategic marketing manager at Molecular Imprints (Austin, Texas). "Not only does it mean a lot to our customers, but it has also proven to be a feather in the cap of our employees--they feel that all their hard work has been recognized."
Since receiving its ACE Award last March, Molecular Imprints has landed $17 million in further financing, bringing the total to $60 million since its founding in 2001. The company has also expanded by 10 employees, bringing its head count to 80, and has snagged a new vice president of marketing, John Doering, from a traditional-lithography house, ASML.
Molecular Imprints also filed its 300th patent application and had its 40th patent granted in the year since it won the award.
From a technological standpoint, Molecular Imprints has charted progress by being able to demonstrate 25-nanometer features on contacts and posts.
"Right now, the industry is trying to decide what technology is going to be required to move to the 32-nanometer mode on the International Roadmap for Semiconductors," said Doering. "Our recent demonstration of 25-nanometer features--specifically for dense contacts, which are a critical [mask] layer--exceeds the requirements for moving to the 32-nanometer node. We think that we can really make a difference here."
Not only is its technology base growing, but Molecular Imprints is growing its customer base as well. The com- pany gives its ACE Award partial credit for that.
"The EE Times ACE Award is well-known, so its biggest benefit has been in recognition," said Doering. "Basically, it signals [to customers] that a reputable trade publication has externally determined that our technology is exciting and has great potential."
When meeting with first-time customers, Molecular Imprints explains that its technology not only has gained traction in the marketplace but also has been recognized by EE Times. "We have incorporated mention of the award into the presentation that we give to all new customers," said Doering. "First we talk about our installed base of systems, then we tell them about our external recognition and accolades.
"That's when we mention the award. This makes them feel much more comfortable" about working with Molecular Imprints.
Doering claimed that the company has made numerous tool sales since last March and that it currently has an installed base of 17 Imprio S-FIL systems. Fourteen are being used to pattern CMOS wafers; two are employed in patterning light-emitting diode substrates, in order to create high-brightness LEDs for solid-state lighting; and one is being used to pattern nanoscale optical waveguides and diffraction gratings, he said.
"We have also made significant progress in the magnetic data storage market, which is still on the horizon [for our technology but which] we think will become a significant market segment for us," said Doering.
Specifically, he said, "hard-disk manufacturers are beginning to experiment with imprint lithography to increase the data storage capacities for those tiny disks they put inside iPods."