Press release | 7.6.2018
Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Munich, 7 June 2018 - Their method of etching geometric patterns onto silicon wafers will help usher in the next generation of computer chips for the digital age: Dutch systems engineer Erik Loopstra and Dutch-Russian physicist Vadim Banine were awarded the Popular Prize of the European Inventor Award 2018 at the Award ceremony today in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, attended by some 600 guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science. The two inventors and their teams at Dutch semiconductor equipment manufacturer ASML and optics manufacturer ZEISS developed an extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) production system for smaller, faster and more powerful semiconductors.
"The public vote for Erik Loopstra and Vadim Banine honours their contributions to helping chart the future of computer-chip production," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "Smaller, more powerful microchips will likely drive developments in fields ranging from consumer electronics to autonomous driving and Artificial Intelligence. We can see how European advances in chip technology can have a big impact on the digital economy."
From 24 April through 3 June, the public was invited to vote online for their favourite inventor or inventor team from among the 15 finalists for the European Inventor Award 2018. Loopstra and Banine received the most votes from among the thousands of votes cast online.
Awards were also handed over to winners in the categories "Industry", "Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)", "Research", "Non-EPO countries" and "Lifetime achievement", as chosen by the international jury from more than 500 individuals and teams of inventors put forward for this year's Award.
The European Inventor Award is presented annually by the EPO to recognise outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth.
Ever smaller, more powerful
chips are critical to further technological developments of the digital age.
Following a prediction made by US engineer and Intel Corporation co-founder
Gordon Moore, computing power has roughly doubled every two years since the
1960s. However, conventional chip
manufacturing methods have approached their physical and economical limits - signalling
a possible departure from Moore's Law and a slowdown in technologies across
numerous related fields. Helping extend Moore's Law into the future, Loopstra,
Banine and their teams developed a EUVL production system that reduces the
wavelength of the radiation used to etch chip details by a factor of 14.
"With a wavelength almost as short as X-ray, we image features on the chip of only 5 nanometres wide, which is barely 20 silicon atoms," explains Vadim Banine. "With this technology we've almost reached the limits of conventional physics."
The EUVL system aims a high-powered laser to heat tiny droplets into plasma and generate extreme ultraviolet radiation that is then directed through highly precise optics onto a chip's silicon substrate for etching tiny chip details. "Optics are no longer made of lenses, but by the world's smoothest mirror system," says Erik Loopstra. He notes that if one of the EUVL system's mirrors were expanded to the size of Germany, or 1 000 km across, the greatest deviation would be less that the width of a human hair. In addition to advanced optics and high-powered laser, the EUVL system features a vacuum environment developed by the inventors and their team that reduces contamination - caused by lumps of material 1 000 times thinner than human hair - to almost zero.
The two inventors credit support from their respective teams at ASML and Zeiss for helping bring the work of over two decades to fruition into a EUVL system ready for large-scale microprocessor chip production. They also point to the role that patents have played in securing important intellectual property protection.
"Only if you put your ideas into patents, can you have the freedom of operation," says Loopstra. "Even if somebody else has the same idea later, you can keep on working on your own invention."
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