Interest in atomic layer etching (ALE) has surged recently because it offers several advantages over continuous or quasicontinuous plasma etching. These benefits include (1) independent control of ion energy, ion flux, and radical flux, (2) flux-independent etch rate that mitigates the iso-dense loading effects, and (3) ability to control the etch rate with atomic or nanoscale precision. In addition to these benefits, we demonstrate an area-selective etching for maskless lithography as a new frontier of ALE. In this paper, area-selective etching refers to the confinement of etching into the specific areas of the substrate. The concept of area-selective etching originated during our studies on quasi-ALE of silicon nitride which consists of sequential exposure of silicon nitride to hydrogen and fluorinated plasma. The findings of our studies reported in this paper suggest that it may be possible to confine the etching into specific areas of silicon nitride without using any mask by replacing conventional hydrogen plasma with a localized source of hydrogen ions.
With shrinking critical dimensions, minimizing each of aspect ratio dependent etching (ARDE), bowing, undercut, selectivity, and within die uniformly across a wafer is met by trading off one requirement against another. The problem of trade-offs is especially critical. At the root of the problem is that roles radical flux, ion flux and ion energy play may be both good and bad. Increasing one parameter helps meeting one requirement but hinders meeting the other. Managing process by managing flux ratios and ion energy alone with conventional sources is not adequate because surface chemistry is uncontrollable. At the root of lack of control is that the electron energy distribution function (<i>eedf</i>) has not been controlled. Fortunately the high density surface wave sources control the <i>eedf</i> by fiat. High density surface wave sources are characterized by distinct plasma regions: an active plasma generation region with high electron temperature (T<sub>e</sub>) and an ionization free but chemistry rich diffusive region (low T<sub>e</sub> region). Pressure aids is segregating the regions by proving a means for momentum relaxation between the source and downstream region. “Spatial pulsing” allows access to plasma chemistry with reasonably high ion flux, from the active plasma generation region, just above the wafer. Low plasma potential enables precise passivation of surfaces which is critical for atomic layer etch (ALE) or high precision etch where the roles of plasma species can be limited to their purposed roles. High precision etch need not be at the cost of speed and manufacturability. Large ion flux at precisely controlled ion energy with RLSATM realizes fast desorption steps for ALE without compromising process throughput and precision.