Research highlight

Nanoscience: A detailed look inside a microchip


March 16, 2017

A technique that can create high-resolution, three-dimensional images of integrated circuits (computer chips) of unknown design is demonstrated in a paper published in this week’s Nature.

Modern nanoelectronics have advanced to a point at which it is no longer possible to image entire devices non-destructively because of the small size of their features and the complex three-dimensional nature of the chips. This has meant that there is a lack of feedback between design and manufacturing processes, which can hamper quality control during production, shipment and use.

Using an imaging technique called ptychographic X-ray computed tomography (PXCT), Mirko Holler and colleagues imaged a detector readout chip for which the authors knew the design. They demonstrated that the three-dimensional images they produced via this process matched the designs for the chip. Having validated the technique, they then imaged a commercially available processor chip. Although the authors had limited information on the design of the chip before PXCT, the resolution of the technique allowed them to see the finest circuit structures.

The authors suggest that this technique could enable the optimization of production processes, the identification of failure mechanisms, and validation of chips purchased for critical applications in fields such as healthcare and aviation.

doi: 10.1038/nature21698

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