UV breakthrough promises cheaper chips

Sunbeds for silicon

Researchers are claiming a breakthrough which could revolutionise how microchips are manufactured, potentially slashing their cost.

A team at UCL says it has developed a new way to induce silicon to oxidise. Silicon oxide layers are a key in microchips, insulating and protecting the silicon, storing charge and controlling currents. It forms very slowly naturally, so chip makers heat their silicon to around 1000°C, a process which costs a lot in energy.

Electronic engineers found a way to use less energy-hungry UV lamps to get the oxide to form by breaking apart oxygen molecules on the material's surface.

Professor Ian Boyd, who led the research, said: "Our finding has the potential to completely overhaul the way that the microelectronic industry processes silicon.

"This finding means that the industry's energy, and subsequent cost savings, could reduce the prices of electronic devices for consumers and, of course, create a positive environmental impact." ®

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