Atomic-thick copper ‘sputtering’ could give us cheaper PC chips

The gold standard of semiconductors appears to be just copper. Really, very thin pieces of copper. A team of scientists from several universities in South Korea and the US collaborated to find a way to create thin copper films that resist corrosion and are just one atom thick. But why should we lay a pair of silicon ingots on top of some flimsy copper foil?

Because there is a very real possibility that with this new method, casting thin copper films in the semiconductor industry can reduce costs, reduce the amount of demand for power devices, and also increase the lifespan of these devices. And it’s all about getting rid of the splinters of those pesky golden things.

That’s like a triple whammy of good things at a time when shrinking transistors is increasingly difficult, and not necessarily the magic bullet to keep Moore’s Law working.

“Oxidation-resistant Cu could replace gold in semiconductor devices,” says Professor Se-Young Jeong, project leader at Pusan ​​National University, “which would help reduce your costs. Oxidation-resistant Cu could also reduce the electrical consumption, as well as increasing the lifespan of devices with nanocircuits.”

A collaboration between Pusan ​​National University and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea and Mississippi State University in the US has created a method to both manufacture this atomic-thick copper foil and a way to prevent it from oxidize and therefore corrode.

Copper is a great conductor, which is why we use it in PC cooling, but it’s not just heat that’s good at conducting, it’s also electricity. You’ll find copper used in all types of electronics, but the problem is, because of corrosion, its lifespan isn’t necessarily as long as other metals with similar characteristics.

By creating what he calls “nearly defect-free” surfaces one atom thick, or single-crystal copper sheets, you can completely bypass the oxidation issue. The kid in me is also stupidly pleased with the phrase “pulverized atomic epitaxy” as the method of actually reaching the copper film, because to my ignorant brain it feels like some scientist just sneezed.

The full study can be found in the journal, Nature, but it’s also worth noting that the findings will not only benefit us PC gamers through future copper-tinted chips, but your favorite bronze sculptures may also receive some protection because of this method. I like The Thinker, because who doesn’t love a big, brooding, naked boy on a pedestal?

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