A research team, including scientists from MAX IV have reported in Nature Communications that the quest for atomic perfection in semiconductor devices was based on an oversimplified model.
Semiconductors are the fundamental building blocks of all modern electronics. Improvements to these materials could affect everything from the clock on our microwave to supercomputers used to crunch big data. The search to make them better involves looking at atomic level changes in semiconductor materials in order to understand how they could be improved, and even made perfect.
The problem with semiconductors and the way they are manufactured is that they need to be processed with metal contacts and thin insulating layers, and the interface between the semiconductor and these contacts contains a lot of defects which hamper device performance. If scientists can find a way to reduce the defects or eliminate them completely, then semiconductors could conceivably become faster and smaller. The problem is, these defects occur on the atomic scale and are very difficult to measure.
Scientists working at Max Lab, the predecessor to the newly built MAX IV, together with physicists from Lund University used the SPECIES beamline to investigate a common semiconductor synthesis method. Hafnium dioxide was deposited on the surface of indium arsenide and monitored using ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (APXPS). The scientists were able to monitor the very first atomic layer that was deposited, and monitor the chemical reactions that were occurring as the process was underway.