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Carl Zeiss Team Nominated for German Future Prize

Revolutionary optics for the manufacture of the microchips of the future

(PresseBox) (Oberkochen, ) A team from Carl Zeiss was today nominated for the German Future Prize – the Prize of the German President for Technology and Innovation – for the development of EUV lithography for the fabrication of the microchips of the future. Using extremely shortwave ultraviolet radiation, this technology will increase the performance of current microchips by more than an order of magnitude in the near future. Developers and engineers at wholly owned ZEISS subsidiary Carl Zeiss SMT have been working on this technology for more than 10 years – more than 100 million euros have already been invested.

Dr. Peter Kurz, speaker for the nominated team, explains the background: “Lithography is a core process of chip fabrication. A mask that serves as a template for the arrangement of circuit paths and electronic elements of a chip is illuminated during this procedure and projected onto the base material silicon using special optics. Increasingly smaller structures must be reproduced in order to integrate the continually rising number of functions on a chip."

Lithography has been a driver of this progress since the inception of the semiconductor industry. However, the optical systems used until now will reach their physical limits within the foreseeable future. This is where EUV lithography (extreme ultraviolet) will open the door to considerably smaller structures. Peter Kurz pinpoints the associated challenge: “There are no transparent lens materials for shortwave EUV radiation (13 nanometer wavelength). The solution lies in complex mirrors that have to be polished with the precision of a few atomic layers due to the extraordinary challenges. Our contribution is to manufacture these mirrors and also precisely integrate them into a total system.” Only then is it possible to produce more powerful chips with low manufacturing costs, which will enable future scenarios such as a networked house, automatic image and voice recognition or increased traffic safety through electronic driver support.

For Carl Zeiss, the successful implementation of this technology is a key step towards the future. Estimates of global market need call for more than 100 EUV systems annually over the next decade, corresponding to annual sales potential of more than one billion euros. Carl Zeiss SMT has already sold the first demonstration systems; orders from leading chip manufacturers have already been submitted for the follow-up systems.

A total of four projects have been nominated for the Future Prize. The final decision on this year’s winner will be made on December 6, 2007, at an award ceremony in Berlin. The Future Prize of the German President is one of the most renowned awards in Germany in the field of technology and innovation.