SRC Helps Blaze Chip Performance Path with Revolutionary Material

Industry First Consortium is First with Innovation in Hafnium-based Insulators

Feb 1, 2007

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. - Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the world's leading university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies, today announced the success of its research with insulators containing the exotic metal hafnium toward significantly extending Moore's Law. Tapping SRC's considerable research network, which spans a community of 23 companies and partners plus 100 universities worldwide, the chip industry can use hafnium-based insulators to take a giant leap toward staying on its aggressive technology roadmap.

"The implications of hafnium-based insulators for the global chip business are revolutionary and have been heralded as the most promising advancements since the introduction of copper interconnect," said Larry Sumney, CEO and president of the SRC. "Dedicated teamwork among several universities and industry has moved decades of research into the mainstream, with the first announcements of planned commercial applications of hafnium-based insulators in just the past few days."

Capitalizing on 10 years of SRC-funded research to find materials to replace widely used silicon dioxide in semiconductors, chip companies this week identified the hafnium-based insulators as instrumental to their planned breakthroughs for smaller, more powerful semiconductors.

Technology utilizing hafnium-based insulators allows for an improved layer of material that regulates the flow of electricity through the more than 2 billion transistors used in today's semiconductors. The SRC-funded research set the groundwork that helped the industry implement these insulators in the plans to continue manufacturing at least three more generations of chips, down to 22 nanometers (nm). The 22nm generation of chips is projected to go into production by 2016.

The benefits of the new technique can be leveraged in multiple ways. Transistors can be shrunk, potentially doubling their count on a chip. Their speed can be accelerated more than 20 percent. Power leakage can be reduced by up to 80 percent and power consumption reduced by half.

"The sun is shining on industry collaboration today," said Bob Wallace, professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas, who has worked with hafnium since the mid-90's to help win the duel between Moore's Law and nature's collective barrier to making smaller chips. "Just when the industry was hardest pressed to predict the next answers to the challenges facing the continued progress of the semiconductor, hafnium is brought to the rescue. This is a great milestone for the countless researchers who've contributed to the university-industry collaborative effort."

Since 1995, SRC has sponsored university research to explore possible alternatives to silicon dioxide insulator in the transistor structure. Utilizing material science studies, as well as prototype structures to explore the practical application issues, an improved fundamental understanding of a class of insulators containing hafnium, zirconium, tantalum, yttrium and other elements was achieved through systematic evaluations to determine the optimum material. Hundreds of university researchers participated in a collaborative effort that included The University of Texas, North Carolina State, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Barbara, University of Minnesota, Penn State, Yale, Rutgers and others. As a result of this research, by the late 1990s compounds containing hafnium became leading candidates to replace silicon dioxide.

Per its charter, SRC will continue to take a lead role in collaborating on enhancements to the academic research agenda for materials and processes associated with semiconductor manufacturing.

About SRC Celebrating 25 years of collaborative research for the semiconductor industry, SRC defines industry needs, invests in and manages the research that gives its members a competitive advantage in the dynamic global marketplace. SRC expands the industry knowledge base and attracts premier students to help innovate and transfer semiconductor technology to the commercial industry. Based in Research Triangle Park, NC, SRC's GRC program drives long-term semiconductor research contracts on behalf of its participating members: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., Applied Materials, Inc., Axcelis Technologies, Inc., Cadence Design Systems, Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., LSI Logic Corp., Mentor Graphics Corp., The Mitre Corp., Novellus Systems, Inc., Rohm and Haas Electronic Materials, Texas Instruments Corp. and Tokyo Electron Ltd. SRC also seeks to leverage funding from global government agencies. For more information, visit

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