LJMU has helped resolve major challenges faced by global semiconductor chip manufacturers, enabling them to produce smaller, better-performing and lower cost products.
The miniaturisation of microelectronic components is a modern-day necessity where demand for smaller yet high performance devices is ever increasing. Flash memory is a type of storage technology that does not require power to retain data and is used in electronic products such as MP3 players, USB sticks and digital cameras.
A specific material used in semiconductor manufacturing of especially small (sub-28-nm) flash memory devices is high-k dielectric. However, a high density of defects exists in high-k materials which is a major challenge and limits its application in the flash memory industry. Research undertaken by the Microelectronics Research Group in LJMU’s Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering has successfully overcome a number of the deficiencies of using high-k materials in memory performance.
The performance of the 20-nm generation, as a result of using the high-k IGD layer, was enhanced significantly compared with the previous generation: cell size reduced by 30%, performance improved by 30%, and bit-cost reduced by 30%.
LJMU researchers have led research that proposed and subsequently demonstrated new pulse techniques for probing the defects in memory-relevant high-k dielectrics. They have done this in collaboration with the Memory Devices Consortium at IMEC (the Inter-University Microelectronics Research Centre) in Leuven, Belgium; LJMU researchers were seconded to work directly with industrial partners. IMEC manufactured and supplied LJMU with state-of-the-art test samples (value €900,000) to investigate issues of major concern to members of the IMEC consortium which included Intel, Micron, Samsung and Toshiba.
The pulse techniques developed by LJMU supported structural optimisation as well as the identification of the source of poor memory retention and endurance.
Application of the development work with IMEC has led to successful introduction of high-k dielectrics for new generation (20-nm) commercial flash memory devices. Intel/Micron has used high-k dielectrics in their 20-nm production since 2011, described as a “major breakthrough for the flash memory industry”.
The research work performed by LJMU is providing very valuable characterisation techniques to our consortium and adding substantial value to the flash memory program and industry.