Reactive-ion etching

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A commercial reactive-ion etching setup in a cleanroom Reactive Ion Etcher.JPG
A commercial reactive-ion etching setup in a cleanroom

Reactive-ion etching (RIE) is an etching technology used in microfabrication. RIE is a type of dry etching which has different characteristics than wet etching. RIE uses chemically reactive plasma to remove material deposited on wafers. The plasma is generated under low pressure (vacuum) by an electromagnetic field. High-energy ions from the plasma attack the wafer surface and react with it.

Etching (microfabrication) technique in microfabrication

Etching is used in microfabrication to chemically remove layers from the surface of a wafer during manufacturing. Etching is a critically important process module, and every wafer undergoes many etching steps before it is complete.

Microfabrication processes of fabrication of miniature structures

Microfabrication is the process of fabricating miniature structures of micrometre scales and smaller. Historically, the earliest microfabrication processes were used for integrated circuit fabrication, also known as "semiconductor manufacturing" or "semiconductor device fabrication". In the last two decades microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), microsystems, micromachines and their subfields, microfluidics/lab-on-a-chip, optical MEMS, RF MEMS, PowerMEMS, BioMEMS and their extension into nanoscale have re-used, adapted or extended microfabrication methods. Flat-panel displays and solar cells are also using similar techniques.

Dry etching refers to the removal of material, typically a masked pattern of semiconductor material, by exposing the material to a bombardment of ions that dislodge portions of the material from the exposed surface. A common type of dry etching is reactive-ion etching. Unlike with many of the wet chemical etchants used in wet etching, the dry etching process typically etches directionally or anisotropically.

Contents

Equipment

A typical (parallel plate) RIE system consists of a cylindrical vacuum chamber, with a wafer platter situated in the bottom portion of the chamber. The wafer platter is electrically isolated from the rest of the chamber. Gas enters through small inlets in the top of the chamber, and exits to the vacuum pump system through the bottom. The types and amount of gas used vary depending upon the etch process; for instance, sulfur hexafluoride is commonly used for etching silicon. Gas pressure is typically maintained in a range between a few millitorr and a few hundred millitorr by adjusting gas flow rates and/or adjusting an exhaust orifice.

Wafer (electronics) thin slice of semiconductor material used in the fabrication of integrated circuits

In electronics, a wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor, such as a crystalline silicon (c-Si), used for the fabrication of integrated circuits and, in photovoltaics, to manufacture solar cells. The wafer serves as the substrate for microelectronic devices built in and upon the wafer. It undergoes many microfabrication processes, such as doping, ion implantation, etching, thin-film deposition of various materials, and photolithographic patterning. Finally, the individual microcircuits are separated by wafer dicing and packaged as an integrated circuit.

Vacuum pump

A vacuum pump is a device that removes gas molecules from a sealed volume in order to leave behind a partial vacuum. The first vacuum pump was invented in 1650 by Otto von Guericke, and was preceded by the suction pump, which dates to antiquity.

Sulfur hexafluoride chemical compound

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is an inorganic, colorless, odorless, non-flammable, non-toxic extremely potent greenhouse gas, and an excellent electrical insulator. SF
6
has an octahedral geometry, consisting of six fluorine atoms attached to a central sulfur atom. It is a hypervalent molecule. Typical for a nonpolar gas, it is poorly soluble in water but quite soluble in nonpolar organic solvents. It is generally transported as a liquefied compressed gas. It has a density of 6.12 g/L at sea level conditions, considerably higher than the density of air (1.225 g/L).

Other types of RIE systems exist, including inductively coupled plasma (ICP) RIE. In this type of system, the plasma is generated with an RF powered magnetic field. Very high plasma densities can be achieved, though etch profiles tend to be more isotropic.

Inductively coupled plasma

An inductively coupled plasma (ICP) or transformer coupled plasma (TCP) is a type of plasma source in which the energy is supplied by electric currents which are produced by electromagnetic induction, that is, by time-varying magnetic fields.

Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.

A combination of parallel plate and inductively coupled plasma RIE is possible. In this system, the ICP is employed as a high density source of ions which increases the etch rate, whereas a separate RF bias is applied to the substrate (silicon wafer) to create directional electric fields near the substrate to achieve more anisotropic etch profiles.

Method of operation

Reactive ion etching (bottom) compared to photochemical etching (center) Etching wet-chemical vs rie (DE).svg
Reactive ion etching (bottom) compared to photochemical etching (center)
A diagram of a common RIE setup. An RIE consists of two electrodes (1 and 4) that create an electric field (3) meant to accelerate ions (2) toward the surface of the samples (5). Rieoperation.svg
A diagram of a common RIE setup. An RIE consists of two electrodes (1 and 4) that create an electric field (3) meant to accelerate ions (2) toward the surface of the samples (5).

Plasma is initiated in the system by applying a strong RF (radio frequency) electromagnetic field to the wafer platter. The field is typically set to a frequency of 13.56 Megahertz, applied at a few hundred watts. The oscillating electric field ionizes the gas molecules by stripping them of electrons, creating a plasma.

The industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands are radio bands reserved internationally for the use of radio frequency (RF) energy for industrial, scientific and medical purposes other than telecommunications. Examples of applications in these bands include radio-frequency process heating, microwave ovens, and medical diathermy machines. The powerful emissions of these devices can create electromagnetic interference and disrupt radio communication using the same frequency, so these devices were limited to certain bands of frequencies. In general, communications equipment operating in these bands must tolerate any interference generated by ISM applications, and users have no regulatory protection from ISM device operation.

The watt is a unit of power. In the International System of Units (SI) it is defined as a derived unit of 1 joule per second, and is used to quantify the rate of energy transfer. In dimensional analysis, power is described by .

Plasma (physics) State of matter

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and was first described by chemist Irving Langmuir in the 1920s. Plasma can be artificially generated by heating or subjecting a neutral gas to a strong electromagnetic field to the point where an ionized gaseous substance becomes increasingly electrically conductive, and long-range electromagnetic fields dominate the behaviour of the matter.

In each cycle of the field, the electrons are electrically accelerated up and down in the chamber, sometimes striking both the upper wall of the chamber and the wafer platter. At the same time, the much more massive ions move relatively little in response to the RF electric field. When electrons are absorbed into the chamber walls they are simply fed out to ground and do not alter the electronic state of the system. However, electrons deposited on the wafer platter cause the platter to build up charge due to its DC isolation. This charge build up develops a large negative voltage on the platter, typically around a few hundred volts. The plasma itself develops a slightly positive charge due to the higher concentration of positive ions compared to free electrons.

Because of the large voltage difference, the positive ions tend to drift toward the wafer platter, where they collide with the samples to be etched. The ions react chemically with the materials on the surface of the samples, but can also knock off (sputter) some material by transferring some of their kinetic energy. Due to the mostly vertical delivery of reactive ions, reactive-ion etching can produce very anisotropic etch profiles, which contrast with the typically isotropic profiles of wet chemical etching.

Kinetic energy energy possessed by an object by virtue of its motion

In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes. The same amount of work is done by the body when decelerating from its current speed to a state of rest.

Chemical milling or industrial etching is the subtractive manufacturing process of using baths of temperature-regulated etching chemicals to remove material to create an object with the desired shape. It is mostly used on metals, though other materials are increasingly important. It was developed from armor-decorating and printing etching processes developed during the Renaissance as alternatives to engraving on metal. The process essentially involves bathing the cutting areas in a corrosive chemical known as an etchant, which reacts with the material in the area to be cut and causes the solid material to be dissolved; inert substances known as maskants are used to protect specific areas of the material as resists.

Etch conditions in an RIE system depend strongly on the many process parameters, such as pressure, gas flows, and RF power. A modified version of RIE is deep reactive-ion etching, used to excavate deep features.

Deep reactive-ion etching (DRIE) is a highly anisotropic etch process used to create deep penetration, steep-sided holes and trenches in wafers/substrates, typically with high aspect ratios. It was developed for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), which require these features, but is also used to excavate trenches for high-density capacitors for DRAM and more recently for creating through silicon vias (TSVs) in advanced 3D wafer level packaging technology.

See also

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Sputter deposition physical vapor deposition (PVD) method of thin film deposition by sputtering

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Alcatel Micro Machining Systems (AMMS) was a French manufacturer of Deep Reactive Ion Etching systems. The company's headquarters were located in Annecy, France.

Plasma-immersion ion implantation

Plasma-immersion ion implantation (PIII) or pulsed-plasma doping is a surface modification technique of extracting the accelerated ions from the plasma by applying a high voltage pulsed DC or pure DC power supply and targeting them into a suitable substrate or electrode with a semiconductor wafer placed over it, so as to implant it with suitable dopants. The electrode is a cathode for an electropositive plasma, while it is an anode for an electronegative plasma. Plasma can be generated in a suitably designed vacuum chamber with the help of various plasma sources such as Electron Cyclotron Resonance plasma source which yields plasma with the highest ion density and lowest contamination level, helicon plasma source, capacitively coupled plasma source, inductively coupled plasma source, DC glow discharge and metal vapor arc(for metallic species). The vacuum chamber can be of two types - diode and triode type depending upon whether the power supply is applied to the substrate as in the former case or to the perforated grid as in the latter.

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