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Nearfield Instruments is a spin-off of the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific Research TNO. TNO will remain a shareholder in Nearfield Instruments.
The world hungers for more powerful and energy efficient electronics for mobile devices and computer systems. To achieve new functionalities, and to make optimum use of the available wafer space, integrated circuit (IC) devices will shrink to atomic dimensions using novel, sensitive materials and newly designed fully three-dimensional configurations. In order to accommodate these trends in a technologically and economically viable way, breakthroughs in metrology processes and equipment for IC device development and manufacturing are required. Without it, Moore’s Law would come to an end. Moore's law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense IC doubles approximately every two years.
Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a well-known technology for imaging the smallest features and is often applied in research. An AFM system uses an atomically-sharp probe to scan (but just not touch) the surface of the sample under investigation to sense the pattern on it. However, AFM was always considered too slow for industrial applications. Five years ago, TNO initiated the NOMI (Nano Opto-Mechatronics Instrumentation) program, which combines scientific research with application know-how, leading to multiple improvements with the potential to make AFM up to 1000x faster than traditional AFM technology. This makes Nearfield Instruments’ AFM solution of prime interest for the semiconductor industry.
Dr. Hamed Sadeghian, principal scientist at TNO and scientific leader of NOMI: “This patented revolutionary architecture is based on parallelizing AFM. The parallelization is achieved by miniaturizing the AFM and operating many of them simultaneously. This instrument has the advantage that each miniaturized AFM can be operated independently, which allows one to measure several physical parameters simultaneously; while one mini AFM measures nano-scale topography, another instrument can measure mechanical, electrical, or thermal properties, making it a lab-on-an-instrument. The key to this was to miniaturize AFM to the size of a matchbox to achieve very high measurement bandwidth combined with very high stability of nanoimaging by shortening the metrology loop1.
To accelerate market introduction of this High-Throughput AFM, TNO launched the spin-off company Nearfield Instruments B.V. in Delft, the Netherlands in 2016. Within the next few years, Nearfield Instruments will develop HT-AFM to a viable product for the semiconductor market. CEO of Nearfield Instruments Dr. Roland van Vliet comments: “The support and commitment of our new partners Samsung Venture Investment Corporation and Innovation Industries provides us all at Nearfield Instruments with the right expertise and momentum to realize atom-scale metrology at industry-level throughput. Together we’ll enable the semiconductor industry in its continuous endeavor towards even more powerful and energy efficient electronics.”
1Sadeghian et al., High-throughput atomic force microscopes operating in parallel, Review of Scientific Instruments 88, 033703 (2017)