Tiny surface defects that form during processing can reduce the quality and yield of semiconductor devices, magnetic storage media and other products. Inspection tools that locate, identify and characterize surface defects based upon how they reflect or scatter light need to be calibrated with accurate particle size standards in order to work properly.
Making metallic standards for such calibrations is typically a hazardous process, but researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland have invented a safer method and apparatus for producing these standards.
Nanoscale spheres typically are used as size standards for calibrating surface inspection instruments. NIST produces a number of Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) used by the semiconductor industry for calibration purposes, including SRM 1963, which consists of 100 nanometer (nm) polystyrene spheres.
The new method produces uniformly sized metal nanospheres, which might be used to determine, for example, whether surface inspection systems can differentiate metal contaminants from other defects.
The new method, patented earlier this year and licensed to MSP Corp., makes spheres 50 nm to 300 nm in diameter out of copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals. The method involves generating aerosol droplets of a solution in an inert gas and heating the droplets to form metal particles.
The solution contains a metal compound, water, and a solvent such as methanol or ethanol. By contrast, the best of current production technologies use hydrogen gas as the solvent, posing a risk of fire or explosion.
University of Maryland
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