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Patent Issued for Multiple Sample Attachment to Nano Manipulator for High Throughput Sample Preparation

June 4, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Electronics Newsweekly -- From Alexandria, Virginia, VerticalNews journalists report that a patent by the inventors Schmidt, Michael (Gresham, OR); Stone, Stacey (Beaverton, OR); Senowitz, Corey (San Diego, CA), filed on July 5, 2013, was published online on May 20, 2014.

The patent's assignee for patent number 8729469 is FEI Company (Hillsboro, OR).

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "Semiconductor manufacturing, such as the fabrication of integrated circuits, typically entails the use of photolithography. A semiconductor substrate on which circuits are being formed, usually a silicon wafer, is coated with a material, such as a photoresist, that changes solubility when exposed to radiation. A lithography tool, such as a mask or reticle, positioned between the radiation source and the semiconductor substrate casts a shadow to control which areas of the substrate are exposed to the radiation. After the exposure, the photoresist is removed from either the exposed or the unexposed areas, leaving a patterned layer of photoresist on the wafer that protects parts of the wafer during a subsequent etching or diffusion process.

"The photolithography process allows multiple integrated circuit devices or electromechanical devices, often referred to as 'chips,' to be formed on each wafer. The wafer is then cut up into individual dies, each including a single integrated circuit device or an electromechanical device. Ultimately, these dies are subjected to additional operations and packaged into individual integrated circuit chips or electromechanical devices.

"During the manufacturing process, variations in exposure and focus require that the patterns developed by lithographic processes be continually monitored or measured to determine if the dimensions of the patterns are within acceptable ranges. The importance of such monitoring, often referred to as process control, increases considerably as pattern sizes become smaller, especially as minimum feature sizes approach the limits of resolution available by the lithographic process. In order to achieve ever-higher device density, smaller and smaller feature sizes are required. This may include the width and spacing of interconnecting lines, spacing and diameter of contact holes, and the surface geometry such as corners and edges of various features. Features on the wafer are three-dimensional structures and a complete characterization must describe not just a surface dimension, such as the top width of a line or trench, but a complete three-dimensional profile of the feature. Process engineers must be able to accurately measure the critical dimensions (CD) of such surface features to fine tune the fabrication process and assure a desired device geometry is obtained.

"Typically, CD measurements are made using instruments such as a scanning electron microscope (SEM). In a scanning electron microscope (SEM), a primary electron beam is focused to a fine spot that scans the surface to be observed. Secondary electrons are emitted from the surface as it is impacted by the primary beam. The secondary electrons are detected, and an image is formed, with the brightness at each point of the image being determined by the number of secondary electrons detected when the beam impacts a corresponding spot on the surface. As features continue to get smaller and smaller, however, there comes a point where the features to be measured are too small for the resolution provided by an ordinary SEM.

"Transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) allow observers to see extremely small features, on the order of nanometers. In contrast SEMs, which only image the surface of a material, TEM also allows analysis of the internal structure of a sample. In a TEM, a broad beam impacts the sample and electrons that are transmitted through the sample are focused to form an image of the sample. The sample must be sufficiently thin to allow many of the electrons in the primary beam to travel though the sample and exit on the opposite site. Samples, also referred to as lamellae, are typically less than 100 nm thick.

"In a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), a primary electron beam is focused to a fine spot, and the spot is scanned across the sample surface. Electrons that are transmitted through the work piece are collected by an electron detector on the far side of the sample, and the intensity of each point on the image corresponds to the number of electrons collected as the primary beam impacts a corresponding point on the surface.

"Because a sample must be very thin for viewing with transmission electron microscopy (whether TEM or STEM), preparation of the sample can be delicate, time-consuming work. The term 'TEM' as used herein refers to a TEM or an STEM and references to preparing a sample for a TEM are to be understood to also include preparing a sample for viewing on an STEM. The term 'S/TEM' as used herein also refers to both TEM and STEM.

"Several techniques are known for preparing TEM specimens. These techniques may involve cleaving, chemical polishing, mechanical polishing, or broad beam low energy ion milling, or combining one or more of the above. The disadvantage to these techniques is that they are not site-specific and often require that the starting material be sectioned into smaller and smaller pieces, thereby destroying much of the original sample.

"Other techniques generally referred to as 'lift-out' techniques use focused ion beams to cut the sample from a substrate or bulk sample without destroying or damaging surrounding parts of the substrate. Such techniques are useful in analyzing the results of processes used in the fabrication of integrated circuits, as well as materials general to the physical or biological sciences. These techniques can be used to analyze samples in any orientation (e.g., either in cross-section or in plan view). Some techniques extract a sample sufficiently thin for use directly in a TEM; other techniques extract a 'chunk' or large sample that requires additional thinning before observation. In addition, these 'lift-out' specimens may also be directly analyzed by other analytical tools, other than TEM. Techniques where the sample is extracted from the substrate within the FIB system vacuum chamber are commonly referred to as 'in-situ' techniques; sample removal outside the vacuum chamber (as when the entire wafer is transferred to another tool for sample removal) are call 'ex-situ' techniques.

"Samples which are sufficiently thinned prior to extraction are often transferred to and mounted on a metallic grid covered with a thin electron transparent film for viewing. FIG. 1 shows a sample mounted onto a prior art TEM grid 10. A typical TEM grid 10 is made of copper, nickel, or gold. Although dimensions can vary, a typical grid might have, for example, a diameter of 3.05 mm and have a middle portion 12 consisting of cells 14 of size 90.times.90 .mu.m.sup.2 and bars 13 with a width of 35 .mu.m. The electrons in an impinging electron beam will be able to pass through the cells 14, but will be blocked by the bars 13. The middle portion 12 is surrounded by an edge portion 16. The width of the edge portion is 0.225 mm. The edge portion 16 has no cells, with the exception of the orientation mark 18. The thickness 15 of the thin electron transparent support film is uniform across the entire sample carrier, with a value of approximately 20 nm. TEM specimens to be analyzed are placed or mounted within cells 14.

"During the extraction process, the wafer containing the completed lamella is removed from the FIB and placed under an optical microscope equipped with a micromanipulator. A probe attached to the micromanipulator is positioned over the lamella and carefully lowered to contact it. Electrostatic forces will attract lamella to the probe tip. The probe tip with attached lamella is then typically moved to a TEM grid. Alternatively, the attachment of the lamella to the probe tip can be done using FIB deposition.

"Samples which require additional thinning before observation are typically mounted directly to a TEM sample holder. FIG. 2 shows a typical TEM sample holder 31, which comprises a partly circular 3 mm ring. In some applications, a sample 30 is attached to a finger 32 of the TEM sample holder by ion beam deposition or an adhesive. The sample extends from the finger 32 so that in a TEM (not shown) an electron beam will have a free path through the sample 31 to a detector under the sample. The TEM sample is typically mounted horizontally onto a sample holder in the TEM with the plane of the TEM sample perpendicular to the electron beam, and the sample is observed.

"Unfortunately, preparation of TEM samples using such prior art methods of sample extraction are time consuming. Conventional work flow usually has a user pick up one sample at a time and placed on the TEM sample holder. First, the sample is prepped. Using a micromanipulator, the sample is lifted out. The sample is then moved to a sample holder, positioned, and then lowered so the electrostatic forces will 'drop off' the sample. The sample can also be removed and placed on the location of a TEM sample holder by physically severing the connection. CD metrology often requires multiple samples from different locations on a wafer to sufficiently characterize and qualify a specific process. In some circumstances, for example, it will be desirable to analyze from 15 to 50 TEM samples from a given wafer. When so many samples must be extracted and measured, using known methods the total time to process the samples from one wafer can be days or even weeks. Even though the information that can be discovered by TEM analysis can be very valuable, the entire process of creating and measuring TEM samples has historically been so labor intensive and time consuming that it has not been practical to use this type of analysis for manufacturing process control. For the user to prep and remove each of the TEM samples, the user must perform these steps repeatedly. In other words, the user repeats the steps of prepping another sample. The user then repeats the step of lifting the sample out. Then, the user moves the sample to the TEM sample holder one at a time. This current process for high volume TM lamella prep is performed serially, and the process is often time consuming and labor intensive.

"Speeding up the process of sample extraction and transfer would provide significant advantages in both time and potential revenue by allowing a semiconductor wafer to be more rapidly returned to the production line. What is needed is an improved method for TEM sample analysis, including new ways of extracting more than one sample at a time."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "An object of the invention, therefore, is to provide an improved method for TEM sample analysis that increases throughput for high volume sample preparation. Preferred embodiments of the present invention provide improved methods that allows for multiple pickups and drop off of samples that allows for efficient processing of the samples. The preferred embodiment of the present invention allows for a method to stack and multiple samples to each other to move the samples to the TEM sample holder with fewer steps. This process also minimizes stage motions, gas injection system (GIS) insert/retract action and manipulator insert/retract actions.

"The foregoing has outlined rather broadly the features and technical advantages of the present invention in order that the detailed description of the invention that follows may be better understood. Additional features and advantages of the invention will be described hereinafter. It should be appreciated by those skilled in the art that the conception and specific embodiments disclosed may be readily utilized as a basis for modifying or designing other structures for carrying out the same purposes of the present invention. It should also be realized by those skilled in the art that such equivalent constructions do not depart from the spirit and scope of the invention as set forth in the appended claims."

For additional information on this patent, see: Schmidt, Michael; Stone, Stacey; Senowitz, Corey. Multiple Sample Attachment to Nano Manipulator for High Throughput Sample Preparation. U.S. Patent Number 8729469, filed July 5, 2013, and published online on May 20, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=81&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=4011&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=20140520.PD.&OS=ISD/20140520&RS=ISD/20140520

Keywords for this news article include: Electronics, FEI Company, Semiconductor, Photolithography.

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Source: Electronics Newsweekly


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