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Multiwavelength spectroscopy improves semiconductor quality

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2010
Dr. Jörg Schwartz, joerg.schwartz@photonics.com

BOULDER, Colo. – A highly sensitive spectral measurement technique has been extended from biomedical breath analysis to industrial detection of impurities in semiconductor gases, according to a group from JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado. Their method, called cavity-enhanced direct-frequency comb spectroscopy, uses a wavelength comb to increase speed and accuracy.

Gases such as arsine are used for epitaxial techniques including molecular beam epitaxy or chemical vapor deposition to grow semiconductor devices such as integrated circuits, laser diodes and solar cells. However, because high-quality devices require extremely pure raw base materials, gases must have an extremely high level of purity. Just 10 water molecules per billion molecules of arsine can cause changes in the band structure and electrical properties of the semiconductor; e.g., reducing the electro-optic conversion efficiency for LEDs or solar cells.

Beyond the challenge of detecting low concentration levels, the processing gas itself has strong absorption bands, sometimes hiding the absorption lines of the contaminant. In addition, there are multiple impurities to check, and with most of today’s methods, this means separate instruments/setups for each.

The researchers say that Fourier transform infrared spectrometers require long acquisition times, whereas negative-ion atmospheric pressure ionization mass spectroscopy – another candidate technology – requires large, complex setups and is not suitable for online testing. Current research focuses on laser-based spectroscopy such as tunable diode laser spectroscopy or so-called cavity ring-down spectroscopy, but those use only one or two specific absorption lines to get a concentration figure. The downside is that other, unexpected contaminants with neighboring absorption lines can mess up the measurement completely.

The approach demonstrated by the JILA group, which was led by professor Jun Ye in collaboration with colleagues from NIST’s Boulder-based campus and Matheson Tri-Gas Inc. of Longmont, overcame this issue by using a whole comb of wavelengths to measure a large number of absorption lines simultaneously.


Direct frequency comb spectroscopy combines broad spectral coverage and parallel detection with very high spectral resolution and detection sensitivity. A broadband optical frequency is coupled into an optical enhancement cavity containing the sample. The transmitted comb spectrum contains spectral signatures of various molecules, revealing minute impurities such as water and methane molecules in the arsine gas used in the semiconductor industry.


Mode-locked lasers produce a train of short pulses in the time domain, equivalent to a closely spaced and regularly defined set of optical frequencies – the “teeth” of the comb. In this case, the researchers used an erbium-doped fiber ring laser, which, after being boosted by an optical amplifier, produced 81-fs pulses at a repetition rate of approximately 250 MHz and average power of 400 mW.

This power was required at the next step, where light was launched into a 6-cm-long piece of highly nonlinear silica fiber. The nonlinearity of this fiber broadens the light spectrum, resulting in a grid of emission lines extending from 1.2 to 2.1 μm (8300 to 4700 cm—1). Noting that up to this point everything could be realized in a rugged all-fiber configuration, they exposed the light to the sample gas, which flowed through a cylinder surrounded by a “build-up cavity” with high finesse.

They carefully adjusted the mirrors and cavity length to couple with the laser frequency comb, matching the comb lines so that each one was in resonance with its corresponding cavity resonance mode. This cavity enhancement, although difficult for such a wide comb, increased the power and interaction length between the light and the gas and intensified the sensitivity of the measurement. Finally, they analyzed the transmitted light with a two-dimensional dispersive spectrometer based on a virtually imaged phased array, a cross-dispersion grating and a 2-D camera, enabling many wavelengths to be measured simultaneously.

By detecting which colors were absorbed by what amounts – matched against a catalog of known absorption signatures for different atoms and molecules – the researchers demonstrated water concentration measurements to very low levels. To date, water at levels of seven molecules per billion in nitrogen gas have been demonstrated and at 31 molecules per billion in arsine.

The group currently is working on parts-per-trillion sensitivity – including extending the comb system even further into the infrared – and toward applications such as atmospheric chemistry.


GLOSSARY
epitaxy
A well controlled thin films technique for growing films with good crystal structure in ultra high vacuum environments at very low deposition rates. Epitaxy methods are well known for the growing of single crystals in which chemical reactions produce thin layers of materials whose lattice structures are identical to that of the substrate on which they are deposited. Some examples are molecular beam epitaxy, liquid phase epitaxy and vapor phase epitaxy. Molecular beam epitaxy is also commonly...
laser spectroscopy
That part of the science involved in the study of the theory and interpretation of spectra that uses the unique characteristics of the laser as an integral part in the development of information for analysis. Raman spectroscopy and emission spectroscopy are two areas where lasers are used.
mode-locked laser
A laser that functions by inducing a fixed phase relationship between all of the modes present in the laser cavity. Once all modes are in phase, the modes are then said to be locked. The interference of these modes with one another inside the cavity then allows the laser to produce high energy, peak-powered short pulses of light in time durations that range from femtoseconds to picoseconds.
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