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Atomic layer etching of metals with anisotropy, specificity, and selectivity

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In this work, a special focus is given to atomic layer etching (ALE) of metals, since this is a relatively new field but is expected to grow rapidly given the major advancements potentially enabled via metal incorporation throughout the manufacturing process of integrated circuits. The impact of John Coburn’s work on the development of ALE processes is analyzed with a focus on ion energy and the neutral-to-ion ratio. To realize atomic precision in removing etch-resistant materials with complex compositions or structures, the surface reactivity would replace etch rate as the parameter of interest to control the chemical contrast needed for selectivity. The desirable etching anisotropy dictates the usage of directional ions. John Coburn’s work on ion-enhanced etching of Si serves as an example that a fine control of ion energy and the neutral-to-ion ratio could be the gateway of reactivity control, which is demonstrated with recent progress on thermal-plasma ALE of Ni. The effect of surface reactivity is studied from first-principle atomistic calculations and confirms the experimental findings.

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