6. Dec. 2022
"The world is hungry for chips, and the demand will grow in the coming decades," comments Radek Václavík, head of semiconductor company onsemi. This is why his company is supporting practical teaching at FEEC BUT for the fourth year already. In the laboratories of CEITEC BUT, the so-called European Center of Excellence, students of the Microelectronics master's program can make their own semiconductor chip, which they will use in other subjects. Thus, they enter their first job with valuable experience.
The teaching takes place in a unique location – in the largest nanocenter of non-commercial clean spaces in the Czech Republic. It is equipped with cutting-edge technologies, which must be located in areas that are several times cleaner than the operating room. The special environment prevents the deterioration of the tiny chips that the master's program students learn to make here.
“The transistor of the hi-tech chip has a size of several nanometers, which is ten thousand times less than the thickness of a human hair. If a single dust particle falls on it, part of the circuit can be damaged or the atmosphere in the furnace can be spoiled, and it is necessary to throw away not only the given chip, but also the entire production batch. Production is expensive and the losses are huge," explains researcher Jan Prášek from the CEITEC BUT center. There are two types of clean spaces in the center. While laboratories for the analysis of nanostructures have a ten times lower concentration of dust particles compared to normal room air, laboratories for the production of chips contain up to ten thousand times lower concentrations. They are therefore only accessible in special overalls. "Students will receive training in the first lesson on how not to contaminate the laboratories. Before entering the ultra-clean areas, they must put on gloves, a cap, coveralls and special shoes. A second pair of gloves and an air shower to remove dirt are also essential," adds the researcher.
The excellent cleanliness of the laboratories is also ensured by ceiling filters in the air conditioning system, through which air is constantly blown from top to bottom. To allow it to flow without interruption, all interior surfaces are perforated – from floors to table tops. Every dust particle that appears in the room is thus immediately knocked down by the air under the floor and travels to the filtration.
After the initial training, each student receives his own silicon board, on which the chips are manufactured. Practical teaching gives FEEC BUT students an advantage over graduates of other faculties, who only learn about chip production from theory or excursions. "Students will get a priceless experience. They get to work in cutting-edge research facilities – they learn to handle fragile silicon boards, operate equipment for applying photosensitive varnishes or equipment for illuminating varnishes through photomasks. They will try applying thin metallic layers with a thickness of tens to hundreds of nanometers using vacuum evaporation or sputtering. In addition to standard wet techniques, they will also learn the dry etching method using ions in special vacuum chambers. But most importantly, they personally touch the entire semiconductor chip production process. Everyone makes their own integrated chip, on which they perform additional test measurements in the following semester," explains Jiří Háze from the Institute of Microelectronics FEEC BUT.
This is also confirmed by the director of the center for the design of integrated circuits from the company onsemi, which is supporting practical teaching at CEITEC BUT for the fourth year and employs dozens of BUT graduates. "If we want to grow as a company and do high-tech things, we cannot do without experienced university graduates. That's why we decided to establish cooperation with BUT in order to ensure more educated students," explains Radek Václavík. “The world is hungry for semiconductor chips and this trend will grow in the coming decades. There are more and more chips – they take care of our safety, comfort and also contribute to a greener planet. We are helping to raise the next generation of experts, without whom electric cars will not be driven and the efficiency of solar power plants will be worse," he concludes.