Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest Enter Research Agreement With Motorola

May 15, 2001 by Jeff Shepard

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN), Motorola Labs (Schaumburg, IL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL, Richland, WA) have entered a cooperative research and development agreement aimed at increasing the speed of future generations of integrated circuits. Together, the scientists will pursue new materials that they believe may be better, thinner gate insulators -- at a dimension of fewer than 20 angstroms.

Industry experts predict the need to develop new materials with a higher dielectric constant, sometimes referred to as high-k materials, that have a higher capacitance for a given thickness. Independent of each other, ORNL and Motorola Labs have been developing just such materials in the form of crystalline oxides on silicon and other semiconductor materials. The scientists hope that combining their expertise will enable them to solve more quickly the remaining issues.

The three-year research agreement has two phases. The first phase, expected to take one year, will address transferring the details of ORNL's patented crystalline oxide on silicon process to Motorola Labs and PNNL. The second phase includes testing and optimizing the technology to ensure that the critical performance and processing issues required for aggressively scaled alternative gate silicon technology can be met. Motorola Labs will evaluate the technology and, if it proves workable, may implement and tailor the technology to Motorola-specific needs.

“By using crystalline oxides, we're able to eliminate one of the hurdles to continuing the current rate of growth in the semiconductor industry," said Rodney McKee of ORNL's Metals and Ceramics Division. The work of McKee and colleague Fred Walker, addresses the transistor gate - the dielectric layer that controls the flow of electricity through the transistor. “This is a great example of how Department of Energy-funded basic science research could have a significant impact on a major U.S. industry."