Philosophy & Scope

1998 Advanced Research Workshop

Future Trends in Microelectronics: Off the Beaten Path

June 1-5, 1998 Ile des Embiez, France

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Ever since the invention of the transistor  and especially after the advent of integrated circuits, semiconductor devices have kept expanding their role in our life. For better or worse our civilization is destined to be based on semiconductors. Transistor circuits entertain us and keep track of our money, they fight our wars and decipher the secret codes of life, and one day, perhaps, they will relieve us from the burden of thinking and making responsible decisions. Inasmuch as that day has not yet arrived, we have to fend for ourselves. The key to success is a clear vision of where are we heading in these turbulent times.

The celebrated Si technology   has known a virtually one-dimensional path of development: reducing the minimal size of lithographic features. From economic viewpoint, there is a widespread fear that this path has taken us to the point of diminishing return. This fear results in reduced investments in hardware technology and even R&D in favor of dramatically increased interest in software and circuit design within existing technologies.

There is certainly no shortage of opinion  about what is going on in our profession. Some, haunted by the specter of steel industry, believe that the semiconductor microelectronics industry has matured and the research game is over. Others believe the progress in hardware technology will be roaring back, based on innovative research. A free-spirited debate of these questions between the leading professionals in the Industry, Government, and Academia is the main purpose of the planned Workshop. Identifying the scenario for the future evolution of microelectronics will present a tremendous opportunity for constructive action today.

New electronic materials,  most powerful enabler of new technologies, will be a central theme in the program. We have an impressive line-up of world's foremost materialists from a broad span of fields (e.g. MBE, polymer, self-organized and composite materials, ion-implantation, photonic bandgap...).  Differentiating from usual materials meetings, our ARW will discuss material's prospects and fundamentals in the context of future technologies. In the context of more traditional view of electronic materials, we plan to debate their fundamental role in the development of Microelectronics. This debate may be seeded by the following "provocative" statement (S. M. Sze, High-Speed Semiconductor Devices, Wiley Interscience, 1990):

The evolution of semiconductor electronics has always been intimately connected with advances in material science and technology. The first revolution in electronics, which replaced vacuum tubes with transistors, was based upon doped semiconductors and relied on newly discovered methods of growing pure crystals. Prior to 1950's, semiconductors could not be properly termed ``doped'' - they were dirty. Today, semiconductors routinely used in devices are cleaner (in terms of the concentration of undesired foreign particles) than the vacuum of vacuum tubes. Subsequent evolution of transistor electronics has been associated with the progress in two areas: (1)miniaturization of device design rules, brought about by advances in the lithographic resolution and doping by ion implantation, and (2) development of techniques for layered-crystal growth and selective doping, culminating in such technologies as MBE and MOCVD, that are capable of monolayer resolution of doping and chemical composition. Of these two areas, the first has definitely had a greater impact in the commercial arena, whereas the second has been mainly setting the stage for the exploration of device physics. These roles may well be reversed in the future. Development of new and exotic lithographic techniques with a nanometer resolution will be setting the stage for the exploration of various physical effects in mesoscopic devices, while epitaxially grown devices (especially heterojunction transistors integrated with optoelectronic elements) will be gaining commercial ground. When (and whether) this role reversal will take place, will be determined perhaps as much by economic as by technical factors. It is anticipated that the lateral miniaturization progress may face diminishing returns when the speeds of integrated circuits and the device packing densities will be limited primarily by the delays and power dissipation in the interconnection rather than individual transistors. Further progress may then require circuit operation at cryogenic temperatures and/or heavy reliance on optical interconnections. Implementation of the latter within the context of silicon VLSI requires hybrid-material systems with heteroepitaxial islands of foreign crystals grown on Si substrates.

All these anticipated developments are likely to be heavily dependent on the progress of material science and techniques for epitaxial growth of semiconductor layers. However muddy our crystal ball may be regarding the future trends in microelectronics, one trend appears to be clear: the device designer of tomorrow will be thinking in terms of multilayer structures defined on an atomic scale.

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Scope and Topics for Discussion

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