Do you want tiny chips with that?

Microchipimaging nature image2 scaled
3-D rendering of the internal structure of an Intel processor. The material in yellow is copper — showing the processor’s circuit connections which link the individual transistors.
Mirko Holle

A new 3D imaging process for the tiniest computer chips allows experts to work with complex electronics in more detail than ever before.

Nanotechnology has reached a stage where imaging the smallest devices and their interconnecting circuits is impossible without destroying the objects themselves.

The lack of detail causes problems between design and manufacturer. It also interrupts quality control, use and repair of the chips, some of which have crucial applications in industries such as healthcare and aviation.

A research team led by Mirko Holler of the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland has devised a process to render high-resolution, 3D images of these miniscule integrated systems.

The team used an approach called ptychographic X-ray computed tomography (PXCT) – an iteration of standard CT scanning that compensates for the loss of information that occurs during imaging on a nano scale.. The scans are then processed digitally, using specialised software, to formulate a complex 3D image.

The technique can image circuits down to 14.6 nanometres – or 14 billionths of a metre. Using PXCT, the researchers were able to render perfect 3D models, revealing designs at a level of detail previously unseen.

The paper, published in Nature, predicts a possible “thousand-fold increase in efficiency” across the technology, thanks to this development.

Please login to favourite this article.