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2003 was another year of significant developments in electronic materials, with major advances as well as steady improvements in several fields.
The most important trend was the emergence of strained silicon technology. In June, Taiwan foundry UMC introduced strained silicon technology based on a process developed by pioneer AmberWave. Then in September, IBM announced the first CMOS transistor fabricated using strained silicon directly on insulator (SSDOI) technology. Soitec is also working in this area.
Another important advance was the successful growth of GaN devices on silicon substrates. Silicon wafers are up to 10 times cheaper than sapphire or SiC wafers, and are also available in much larger diameters. Nitronex was issued a patent in September for its method of growing crack-free epilayers of GaN on silicon. The same month, a joint research program to deposit GaN and AlGaN/GaN HEMTs on silicon substrates was announced in Germany.
Other developments in compound semiconductors included the fabrication of the world's fastest transistor, an HBT that operates at frequencies up to 509 GHz, by a group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The transistor was built of InP/InGaAs epilayers on an InP substrate. At Sandia National Laboratories, researchers demonstrated two deep UV AlGaN on sapphire LEDs that set records for power output at short wavelengths.
A different area in which big strides were also made in 2003 was nanoelectronics. Progress was made in single-molecule switches, which are a candidate for molecular computers, and in nanowire TFTs and carbon nanotubes. Both DuPont and Motorola are close to commercialization of carbon nanotube technology for large flat panel displays, while Applied Nanotech exhibited a black and white carbon nanotube TV in December.
Quantum dots were in the news too. Another research team at Sandia developed the first solid-state white light-emitting device using quantum dots, consisting of encapsulated CdS nanophosphors. And University of Toronto researchers described a PbS quantum dot plastic that produces light at fiber optic wavelengths.
Memory materials was another growth area last year. In June, Toshiba announced the first embedded DRAM on SOI cell. In October, Motorola produced the first 4 Mbit MRAM chip, based on a magnetic tunnel junction. In nonconventional memories, a university research team reported the first assembly of a nanostructure consisting of gold islands and disordered arrays of conductive organic molecules, which can function as nonvolatile memory.
Materials being investigated for use in polymer based circuitry include pentacene, polythiophene and PPVs. Work on these polymers in 2003 was reported by several universities, as well as 3M.
Constant progress was made all year on low-k dielectric materials, which are finally entering production. Dow Chemical announced a porous low-k resin with an ultralow k value of 2.2. Other areas in which new or improved materials were introduced in 2003 include high-k dielectrics, barrier films, CMP, lithography and photoresists, and EMI shielding.
On the side, suppliers of electronic gases continued to diversify, shifting from providing just gases and equipment to supplying fabs with a complete range of chipmaking chemicals and gases. Global electronic gases market leader Air Products acquired Ashland Electronic Chemicals.
Materials suppliers paid more attention in 2003 to the expanding Asian market. Several companies established facilities there, notably in China, or expanded existing operations.
The best news was that the electronics industry overall, and the materials market in particular, began to recover from their slump of more than two years. This was shown both by better financial results from electronic materials suppliers, and by the steady improvement in industry statistics. Price increases in solvents and electronic gases were part of this rising trend.
This anthology is based on BCC, Inc.'s monthly newsletter Electronic Materials Update and keeps readers abreast of the rapid technology developments that characterize the entire electronic materials industry. The review provides breaking technology developments and industry news covered in the last year on: