National Lab Researchers Boost Chip Design Processes With Artificial Intelligence

MARHARYTA MARKO/iStock.com

The experiments could hold the potential to help ease future semiconductor shortages.

Argonne National Laboratory researchers uncovered and continue to explore new ways to advance a semiconductor chips design technique using artificial intelligence.

They present several AI-based approaches to optimize atomic layer deposition, or ALD, processes in a recently published study. The method produces super-fine films of materials, like one atom thick. 

It also partly underpins the making of computer chips, which are now at the center of a global supply chain shortage that’s pushed up prices of all sorts of electronics. 

“The effort predates the current chip shortage issues, but we have been looking at semiconductor processing and its manufacturing challenges for a long time,” ARNL Principal Materials Scientist Angel Yanguas-Gil told Nextgov Thursday.

Yanguas-Gil has long pursued AI-aligned semiconductor innovation, including helping pioneer a cutting-edge neuromorphic computer chip modeled off insect brains. He explained chasing fundamental breakthroughs that could profoundly impact advanced manufacturing is a priority for Argonne. Yanguas-Gil’s group received funding from the Energy Department’s Technologist in Residence Program, among others, which he said, “encouraged [them] to look at the industry as-a-whole.” The lab has a strong ALD program, he noted, and their established connections with the private sector helped insiders fully grasp the existing key challenges. 

“This led to an internally funded research program specifically focused on applying AI to manufacturing that supported the current research,” Yanguas-Gil said.

A press release recently published by the lab details the complexities of the fresh experiments.

ALD can be used to grow thin films for diverse applications. It occurs inside a chemical reactor, where “precursors,” or two different chemical vapors, cling to a surface and over time result in a fine film. The technique “excels at growing precise, nanoscale films on complex, 3D surfaces,” according to the lab’s release, motivating scientists to explore the making of new ALD materials for the next generations of devices. 

Forming and optimizing nascent ALD processes is incredibly tedious. So Yanguas-Gil and the lab team moved to explore three optimization strategies: random, expert system and Bayesian optimization. 

“We can use a cooking metaphor to explain the three models,” Yanguas-Gil explained. 

The Bayesian optimization is an algorithm that—as it tries various conditions and receives feedback—learns an internal model that helps it understand precisely what are the most promising conditions to try next, he noted. In cooking terms, that algorithm has absolutely no prior information about what “cooking” means—it simply starts with a collection of ingredients and oven setting. 

“It is really good at quickly figuring out the proportions of ingredients that lead to a good recipe based on the feedback it receives,” the scientist explained.

In contrast, the expert system builds on earlier types of AI that attempt to codify some expert information about trends that it should expect during the optimization process. To find the optimum condition, the system uses those expectations or rules together with the feedback it receives after trying a new condition. Considering the cooking analogy, “it is as if we tell the algorithm that it should focus on the proportion of the main ingredients first because you can always rectify the spices once the dish is cooked,” Yanguas-Gil said.

And the random system is the baseline case, he added. Through it, they’re essentially “just picking up conditions at random, hoping that one of them is a good one.” Eventually, the system will land on a point that may be close enough to the target—“but you have to be willing to taste really gross dishes in the process,” according to Yanguas-Gil. 

“The random system helps us get a sense of how hard—and how gross—it is to get to a really good recipe,” he noted, “but it is not a method that is really intended for the user.”

Lab researchers evaluated the three optimization strategies, aiming to find conditions that led to “high and stable film growth in the shortest time,” among other aims. The work involved optimization algorithms, a simulated system and more. Researchers also established a close-loop system, through which a simulation completes an experiment, feeds results to an AI tool. Then, the AI tool interprets those, and recommends the next experiment—all without any input from humans.

The AI-based approaches determined optimal timing elements for different simulated ALD processes. The study is “among the first to show that thin-film optimization in real-time is possible using AI,” the lab’s release confirmed.

To Yanguas-Gil, coupling in-situ techniques—or examining events where they happen—with machine-learning algorithms to drive optimization “seems like a no-brainer.” But he and his team weren’t able to identify any meaningful examples applied to ALD across scientific literature that predated this work. 

“I think that part of the reason is that you need a team with a diverse range of expertise working together: experts in the technique, both in terms of fundamentals, in-situ characterization, and manufacturing, experts in machine learning, in modeling and simulation, experts in instrumentation,” Yanguas-Gil said. “We happened to have that at Argonne.”

The research provides a means to accelerate integrating new processes into manufacturing. It also introduces the chance that such approaches could help America’s makers save time and money amid chip development.

“The actual impact is going to depend on tool manufacturers or specialty fabs picking up these ideas and applying them to their own problem,” the researcher noted. “Our mission is to put the technology out there and help industry in any way we can to get new capacity online as fast as possible.”

Going forward, he and his team have multiple concepts for how they can “push this research further.” And they are also thinking about technology transfer. In that light, Yanguas-Gil added that an advantage to the fresh approach is that it works with off-the-shelf characterization tools.

“We are having conversations with industry—companies interested in understanding how this research can help them optimize their processes,” he said. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.