Perhaps the most impactful invention in modern history, the transistor is at the core of semiconductor devices and has dramatically transformed virtually every industry while helping spawn many new ones. As illustrated in Figure 1, today’s microchips can contain over a billion transistors and are improving our cars, phones, and refrigerators—empowering internet searches, genetic research, and smart sensors. How different would our world be today without these integrated circuit (IC) “microchips?”
As is often the case, engineered ceramics are behind the scenes—enabling the impressive semiconductor fabrication process by delivering consistent performance despite stringent thermal, chemical, electrical, mechanical, dimensional, and cleanliness requirements. These complex integrated circuits are built one layer at a time on semiconducting wafers (typically silicon), in some of the most aggressive and challenging environments. Sophisticated semiconductor processing equipment is designed to deposit, pattern, etch, and anneal numerous layers of tailored dielectric and metal materials using highly reactive gasses, corrosive liquids, powerful plasma, and dramatic temperature changes. Advanced ceramics are among the only materials that can be engineered to endure hundreds of aggressive cycles in these harsh environments while delivering clean, consistent performance.