Resharpening trailing-edge technologies

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITORTremendous thought and planning ensure that each issue of Photonics Spectra offers value and appeal for as broad a readership as possible. We aim to publish at least one feature representing each of the four “tentpole” technologies of this industry — lasers, imaging, spectroscopy, and optics. And yet, for all our studied diversity, unexpected themes sometimes emerge in our feature content. In the case of the July issue, that theme might be articulated as “All that’s old is new again.”

Our cover story, written by James Schlett, sets the tone. It reports on an unexpectedly sharp rebound in demand for deep-UV (DUV) semiconductor lithography tools based on argon fluoride laser technology. DUV laser tools have been the industry workhorse for nearly three decades and have produced countless generations of transistor chips with progressively smaller feature sizes.

A few years ago, semiconductor manufacturers began rolling out extreme-UV (EUV) lithography tools to enable chips with sub-14-nm features. That rollout continues, though at a pace slower than initially expected.

DUV tools were never going away. EUV is only critical for fabricating the very finest features on a chip, and DUV systems often take over and finish the job at some point. DUV systems are also suitable for producing chips designed for a broad and growing array of high-volume applications, from 5G to artificial intelligence.

In an industry characterized by razor-thin margins, rising demand for venerable DUV lithography is driving new growth. Read Schlett’s article here to learn more.

Contributing editor Hank Hogan’s feature on lunar landers also fits this month’s “old is new” theme. Most readers today would associate moon landings with an era typified by love beads and disco music. We may all be recalibrating that association soon, as NASA’s Artemis program is preparing to send astronauts to the lunar surface again within the next few years. This time NASA is targeting the moon’s rockier south pole for a landing site, and the astronauts’ descent will be aided by laser, lidar, and imaging technology. Click here.

It would be a challenge to not find something new and cutting-edge in our coverage this issue. But it’s nice to see some legacy photonics technologies demonstrate their staying power.

Published: July 2021

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