Integration of new materials in silicon-based semiconductor manufacturing lines

The German high-tech company AMO provides research and manufacturing services in the field of nanotechnology. Michael Hornung, Managing Director, sat down with EPIC’s Jose Pozo to discuss driving research and process development in the areas of graphene electronics, nanophotonics, nanoimprinting and technology sensors.

Michael’s early career was launched after earning a master’s degree in mineralogy from the University of Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany in 1992. Having developed a fascination for crystallography, he then pursued a thesis on the growth of crystals in copper-indium-selenium systems and on the characterization of their microstructure. After obtaining his PhD in 1996, Michael remained in Freiburg, spending the next 4 years as a research scientist, working on the construction of gallium arsenide detectors for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Geneva.


Interest in gallium arsenide-based detectors was driven by the hope that, being this material resistant to radiation (unlike silicon), it would be able to withstand the extremely high levels of radiation created internally. of the collider. Unfortunately, testing proved that was not the case and the project was eventually scrapped. Michael then spent the rest of his post-doctoral time developing readout electronics for CERN.

SUSS MicroTec

In 2000, Michael’s postdoctoral contract ended. Although working at CERN was a great experience – collaborating with scientists from all over the world and meeting several Nobel laureates, including Stephen Hawking – Michael knew that with his background in mineralogy it would have been difficult to continue working in physics. high energies. As a result, he successfully applied for the position of Application Engineer at SUSS MicroTec in Germany.

SUSS MicroTec was, and still is, a leading provider of equipment and process solutions for micropatterning applications, including backend lithography, wafer bonding, and photomask processing, as well as micro- optics. Michael’s first task at SUSS Micro Tec was to equip a clean room with all the tools needed for lithography and to demonstrate the company’s various lithography processes to potential customers, in relation, for example, to the etching, mask alignment, coating and various substrate materials. .

In 2006, Michael became an Application Development Project Manager and was responsible for finding ways to improve lithographic nanoimprinting processes. In this context, he successfully introduced the first printing resin using UV curing glue. But the real breakthrough came when his team implemented Philips’ Substrate Conformal Imprint Lithography (SCIL) technology, which enabled high-quality, high-resolution nanoimprinting for the first time.

In 2011, after earning an MBA from Ludwigshafen University of Applied Sciences, Michael was promoted to Technical Marketing Manager at SUSS, becoming responsible for nanoimprint lithography, LED applications and leading research projects with research institutes, universities and other companies to achieve corporate goals. .


Towards the end of Michael’s time at SUSS, there was a change in direction. While he previously enjoyed some independence, with the new management regime he had to run everything through his boss and fight for every decision. Unhappy with the situation, in 2014 Michael decided to join AMO GmbH as COO.

Based in Aachen, AMO is a research foundry and a non-profit nanotechnology SME, whose mission is to bridge the gap between academic research and industrial application. AMO acts as a scout for new technologies, identifying fundamental research topics that seem particularly promising for future applications and developing their potential towards industrial manufacturing. It also provides research and manufacturing services, from proof-of-concept demonstrators to final technological solutions, drawing on its vast expertise in advanced nanolithography techniques (UV-Nanoimprint, E-Beam lithography, Interference Lithography) and on a highly flexible CMOS environment. .

What drove Michael to AMO was the possibility of returning to the world of cutting-edge research and having more control over decision-making. Shortly after joining AMO, Michael became one of two CEOs, and has since been responsible for driving research and process development across AMO’s four areas of expertise.

Graphene electronics. One hundred times stronger than steel, incredibly flexible and completely transparent, graphene is an exceptional material, with a wide range of potential applications, including anti-corrosion coatings and paints, efficient and precise sensors, electronics faster and more efficient, flexible screens, efficient solar panels. panels, faster DNA sequencing and drug delivery.

AMO has been exploring the potential of graphene in micro- and optoelectronics since 2006. But, as Michael points out, being a bridge between basic research and industry, AMO’s role is not only to engage in research but also to show how particular processes can be scaled. for mass production.

To this end, AMO has partnered with other key European companies and research centers to create the 2D Experimental Pilot Line, a first-of-its-kind manufacturing facility for graphene and 2D materials. Funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, the objective of this pilot line is to demonstrate how electronics, optoelectronics and sensors based on graphene and other 2D materials can be produced for applications commercial.

Nanophotonics. When AMO was founded in 1993, the main focus was on silicon technology for classic CMOS processors. Since then, AMO has also developed core competency in using state-of-the-art cleanroom patterning technologies to develop active and passive integrated nanophotonic structures and devices, such as high-speed integrated modulators and resonators for modern optical communication applications.

More recently, AMO has also implemented a second nanophotonics platform using silicon nitride as the waveguide material for applications in information technology, biophotonics, life sciences, sensing and silicon-based integrated components for terahertz generation.

Nanoprint: Since feasibility and cost are the decisive factors for the development of successful nanofabrication techniques, AMO continues to research the most suitable low-cost replication technology for e-beam defined nanopatterns, combining the advantages of a low print force and precise alignment capabilities to achieve a resolution limited only by the model. An important result was the development of a high performance UV curable resist (AMONIL) and corresponding adhesion promoter (AMOPRIME), which are now commercially available.

AMO is also involved in several national and European R&D projects to explore the potential replacement of expensive EUV lithography for industrial applications in photonics, NEMS and biotechnology.

Sensor technology Using accumulated know-how in materials processing and advanced replication technologies, AMO works on sensor technology for applications in safety engineering, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and environmental technology – e.g. for detect medical residues and other hazardous materials in wastewater.

Since the core of sensor technology is the ability to transform one type of energy into another that can be processed more efficiently, AMO also invests this expertise in environmental and energy related projects. For example, AMO is currently participating in HyperSol, an EU-funded project to explore improved plasmonic photocatalysts to increase the production efficiency of solar fuels.

The future

In 2021, AMO launched around ten new R&D projects, mainly funded by the European Horizon 2020 program. These include projects on the development of ultra-fast graphene-based photodetectors; on the development of ultra-compact and inexpensive plasmo-photonic platforms for monitoring food quality; and on the development of new optoelectronic components based on 2D materials and perovskite semiconductors.

In addition, AMO also leverages its technology platform and know-how in emerging fields such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence. In this context, AMO contributes to the European MISEL project, which aims to develop a multispectral intelligent vision system with low-power on-board neural computing. Two other ongoing AI-related projects are: AI-NET-PROTECT, which aims to use AI to provide automated resilience and secure networks against cyberattacks, and AEOLUS, which targets a cloud-connected system to monitor air quality based on highly integrated systems. mid-infrared photonics and powered by deep learning algorithms. Additionally, AMO is involved in the Neurotec and NeuroSys projects, two major initiatives funded by the BMBF to develop the technological basis of neuromorphic devices for artificial intelligence applications.

As Michael points out, these are all areas where future progress will most likely rely on the successful integration of new materials into conventional silicon-based semiconductor manufacturing lines. This kind of integration has been one of AMO’s strengths for years, and it will continue to play an increasingly important role for future projects. Another reason companies and research institutes will continue to seek AMO’s collaboration is because they know that after a device has been shown to work, AMO will try to improve the technology and make it ready for use. manufacturing.

If you were doing it again, what would you do differently?

“To be honest, not much. I haven’t had a lot of failures and when I look back on my career, I think I mostly made the right decision at the right time. I guess I could have left SUSS sooner, but again the experience and know-how I have accumulated with them has been invaluable”.

What advice do you have for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

“First, it is important to be open to foreign cultures and different outlooks on life. Don’t just work alone with your own ideas, look beyond the border and see what is happening elsewhere and what is coming from other directions.

Second, you must be open to change. The worst thing you can do is get stuck on the same path and be unaware of or unwilling to implement new processes or technologies.

Written by Jose Pozo, Chief Technology Officer at EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium).

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