A University of Washington lab has been working for more than a decade on fusion energy, harnessing the energy-generating mechanism of the sun. But in one of the twists of scientific discovery, on the way the researchers found a potential solution to a looming problem in the electronics industry.
To bring their solution to market two UW engineers have launched a startup, Zplasma, that aims to produce the high-energy light needed to etch the next generation of microchips.
“In order to get smaller feature sizes on silicon, the industry has to go to shorter wavelength light,” said Uri Shumlak, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “We’re able to produce that light with enough power that it can be used to manufacture microchips.”
The UW beam lasts up to 1,000 times longer than competing technologies and provides more control over the million-degree plasma that produces the light.
Zplasma believes its technology is capable of producing much brighter light than competing light sources. While conventional EUV technology is still striving to produce light at 100 watts, the Zplasma device is designed to start out at 200 watts.
They may have found that application in the microchip industry. Light produced through techniques now being considered by the chip industry generate a spark that lasts just 20 to 50 nanoseconds. Zplasma’s light beam lasts 20 to 50 millionths of a second, about 1,000 times longer.
University of Washington. The lab equipment includes a small system that measures plasma for electronics applications, attached to a larger tank containing plasma for energy research. .
ZaP Flow Z-Pinch Experiment
The ZaP Flow Z-Pinch Experiment is an innovative confinement concept to magnetically confine a high-temperature, high-density plasma. The Z-pinch has a simple, linear configuration with no applied magnetic fields. The self-field generated by the axial current confines and compresses the plasma. The concept was investigated extensively for fusion energy applications; however, the configuration is unstable to gross sausage and kink modes.
The ZaP project investigates the concept of using sheared axial flows to provide complete stability without adversely affecting the advantageous properties of the Z-pinch (no applied fields, high temperatures, high densities, unity average beta, and only perpendicular heat conduction). The experiment produces a Z-pinch plasma that is 100 cm long with a 1 cm radius. The plasma exhibits stability for an extended quiescent period. The experiment addresses the basic plasma science issue of the connection between sheared flows and plasma stability. In addition, the concept has applications for fusion energy and advanced space propulsion.