Dr Michael Nolan, Senior Staff Researcher, Micro & Nano Systems Centre, Tyndall National Institute has won funding to support a new research collaboration via a new partnership between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). The NITRALD project (Process development and mechanistic investigation of barrier materials for advanced interconnect technology) is coordinated by Dr Michael Nolan at Tyndall, together with Prof. Hong-Liang Lu at Fudan University. The project valued at €1,310,000 will run over the next 4 years and support 5 new researchers in areas of strategic importance to the People’s Republic of China and Ireland.

The Science Foundation Ireland – National Natural Science Foundation of China Partnership awards announcement was made by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for Brexit, Simon Coveney, and Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen.

The funding announcement, which was made on the occasion of the Export Trade Council meeting at Iveagh House in Dublin, is a direct result of a joint investment made by the Irish government through Science Foundation Ireland to the value of €8.6 million euro and ¥31,920,000 (ca. €4,273,000) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Tyndall is one of the eight Irish projects receiving SFI-National Natural Chinese Science Foundation funding which were subject to rigorous review with approximately 250 international expert reviewers assisting in the peer-review process. Tyndall is also one of the four academic institutions in Ireland who will collaborate with six institutions across the People’s Republic of China to carry out research.

The motivation for the NITRALD project (Process development and mechanistic investigation of barrier materials for advanced interconnect technology) is that the continued downscaling of the dimensions of electronic chips will be more strongly limited by interconnect speed, rather than transistor performance. Resistive-capacitive delays mean that interconnect becomes slower as the size moves to nanometres and it is difficult to grow Cu films as these length scales. Cu interconnect processes involve pre-coating with layers that prevent Cu diffusion (‘barrier’) and act as seed for Cu electroplating (‘liner’).  However challenges with deposition at these length scale means that new materials and processing technologies are required.

In NITRALD the combined modelling/simulation and experimental efforts will be used to address the key challenges in interconnect technology which are (1) finding a single material to function as a barrier and liner (2) developing ALD processes for this material (3) process optimisation and (4) Cu growth as films.

Tyndall will use simulation to discover these single barrier/liner films which permits a larger volume of Cu to be used, thus reducing resistance. Our expertise will also be used to find a nitrogen plasma ALD process for growth of the new materials. From this work, the barrier and electrical properties will ultimately be optimized to achieve the required single-layered barrier+liner coatings for use in down scaled electronic devices.

President of the NSFC, President Professor Li Jinghai, said: “The NSFC-SFI Partnership Programme supports excellent collaborative scientific research that has potential economic and societal impact. The programme builds capacity, expertise and mutually beneficial relationships between Ireland-based and China-based researchers, and will contribute to the global science and to the economic development in both countries. This is a wonderful beginning for our partnership, and I look forward to further cooperation between our two foundations.”

Congratulating the awardees, Deputy Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Ciarán Seoighe, said: “I am delighted to welcome the first eight awards under the new SFI-NSFC Partnership Programme. Science Foundation Ireland has been building research links between Ireland and the People’s Republic of China for the last number of years and the launch of these partnerships is a testament to the strong collaborative relationship between our two nations. Combining the expertise and resources of both research communities has proven very successful in attracting innovative and impactful project submissions, I am excited to see the outcomes from today’s successful applicants”.

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