Almost 15 years ago, Richard Livengood, a researcher for Intel, used an exotic machine known as a focused ion beam to painstakingly deposit a missing wire on the surface of a 486-microprocessor chip. \nThe chip was then placed into a personal computer, which, to the astonishment of Livengood and a small group of Intel engineers, booted Microsoft's Windows operating system without a hitch. \nThe technique, now referred to as silicon nanosurgery and routinely used at nine Intel chip factories around the world, has completely transformed the way modern computer chips are developed. \nAround the Clock \nIn a building next to Intel's corporate headquarters here, the focused ion beam technology is now employed -- often around the clock -- as part of an arsenal of microimaging and "surgical" tools used to locate design flaws and performance bottlenecks and make changes in circuit wires that are frequently no more than several hundred atoms in width. \nIn a cluster of windowless rooms known as the debug lab, the company also uses lasers and photo detectors, often aimed at single transistors. \nOne of the newest machines, using what is called laser-assisted device alteration, makes it possible to change the speed of the tiny switches that make up a silicon chip. This allows Intel chip designers to quickly fine-tune circuits to generate more speed from their microprocessors. \nSimilar systems are widely used throughout the semiconductor industry today to accelerate the time it takes to go from prototype chips to manufacturing. \nRather than keeping the technologies it pioneers proprietary, Intel often licenses them to semiconductor equipment makers in an effort to keep the industry advancing uniformly as well as to ensure a less-expensive supply of the multimillion-dollar machines. \nAt the same time, Intel tries to keep some technologies in reserve to maintain a lead in an industry in which a technology generation lasts about two years. \nMolecular-Scale \nThe company's silicon surgeons are proof that chip makers are now within a decade of creating electronic devices made from molecular-scale components. \n"We've moved well into the nano world," said Livengood, who has worked at Intel for 17 years. \nTechniques for peering into semiconductor chips date to the early 1980s, when Intel scientists pioneered an approach known as voltage contrast technology. \nTiming Problems \nBy scanning an electron beam across the top of a running computer chip, they were able to watch each transistor and wire in the chip switch on and off. It made it possible to look for hard-to-diagnose timing problems, like a transistor that was turning on and off too slowly. \nDuring that decade, however, the industry was forced to find new techniques when it developed sophisticated methods for packaging chips, known as "flip chip" modules. This advance made it possible to attach many more wires to each chip to move data in and out more quickly. \nThe task of looking inside working chips that had been turned upside down and sealed shut was much more complicated. To gain access to the transistors again, Livengood's researchers developed an approach based on etching away most of the back of the chip until only an ultrathin sheet of silicon was left. It acted as a window, making it possible to use ion beams and lasers to see the transistors as they turned on and off. \nThe researchers were then able to devise ways to use the ion beams to cut holes less than a micron in diameter through the back of the chip. The holes make it possible to both cut metal wires and add new ones inside the chip. \nOn some occasions, Intel technicians even fashion ultrasmall capacitors or change the width and thickness of the metal lines to speed up or slow down the switching speed of transistors. \nTweaking \nThe tools are used routinely now as part of the process of tuning new chips as they are readied for manufacturing. Livengood estimated that it was possible to increase speeds as much as 20 percent by tweaking individual transistors in a process similar to that of a piano tuner adjusting different wires on a piano. \nRecently, Intel's president, Paul S. Otellini, said the company was changing its strategy to focus less on pure chip speed and more on adding features to its future microprocessors. \nThat will not give Livengood's design team any chance to relax, however. \n"Moore's Law hasn't changed," he said, referring to the industry's track record of constantly shrinking the size of transistors.
PHOTO: NY TIMES
‘HERO OF THE ERA’: President Tsai Ing-wen expressed deep sadness at Lee’s passing, and told the government to assist his family with all their needs Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) passed away at 7:24pm yesterday at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. He was 97 years old. The hospital stated the cause of death as septic shock and multiple organ failure. Lee had been hospitalized there since February, when he choked on a mouthful of milk at home. He was later diagnosed with pulmonary infiltrates and aspiration pneumonia. The hospital said that Lee had been treated with antibiotics, but that his health had not improved, as his advanced age and diabetes had inhibited his immune system and led to recurring infections. During his hospitalization, Lee underwent daily kidney dialysis, which removed
‘WEAK POSITIVE’: The man arrived in Taiwan in May and was quarantined for two weeks, Chen Shih-chung said, adding that he might be infected a long time ago The government is considering tightening mask-wearing rules again in light of a potential domestic COVID-19 infection, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, six of which are imported. The other case involves a Belgian engineer who entered Taiwan on May 3 and remained in quarantine until May 17, said Chen, who heads the CECC. Although the source of infection has yet to be identified, the case could end the nation’s record of not having any domestic cases in the previous 110 days. The Belgian, in his 20s, is a technician
RECEIVING TREATMENT: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang visited former president Lee Teng-hui yesterday morning Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday rebutted speculation that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had died a day earlier, saying that he was weak, but receiving treatment. The hospital said the 97-year-old Lee was not in good condition and needed ongoing care, adding that if there are any changes in his condition, it would make those public. The comments came after rumors emerged online on Tuesday that Lee had died after being hospitalized since early February. Soon after the unsubstantiated rumors emerged, reporters started flocking to the hospital seeking confirmation. Lee was admitted to Taipei Veterans General Hospital on Feb. 8 after choking while drinking
ROAD TO HISTORY: When Lee Teng-hui joined the KMT, the likelihood of a Taiwanese becoming ROC president, much less its first directly elected one, was hard to imagine Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was born on Jan. 15, 1923, in the farming community of Sanshi Village, Taihoku Prefecture — now New Taipei City’s Sanzhi District (三芝) — during the Japanese colonial era, and rose to become mayor of Taipei and not only the Republic of China’s (ROC) first Taiwan-born president, but its first directly elected one as well. Educated in the Japanese educational system of the time, Lee, who spoke Japanese, Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Mandarin and English, won a scholarship to Kyoto Imperial University, but his studies were interrupted by World War II. He earned a bachelor’s