Why this alternative to continuous etching is viewed as an essential part of atomic layer deposition.
Atomic layer etching (ALE) is a technique for removing thin layers of material using sequential reaction steps that are self-limiting. ALE has been studied in the laboratory for more than 25 years. Today, it is being driven by the semiconductor industry as an alternative to continuous etching and is viewed as an essential counterpart to atomic layer deposition. As we enter the era of atomic-scale dimensions, there is need to unify the ALE field through increased effectiveness of collaboration between academia and industry, and to help enable the transition from lab to fab. With this in mind, this article provides defining criteria for ALE, along with clarification of some of the terminology and assumptions of this field. To increase understanding of the process, the mechanistic understanding is described for the silicon ALE case study, including the advantages of plasma-assisted processing. A historical overview spanning more than 25 years is provided for silicon, as well as ALE studies on oxides, III–V compounds, and other materials. Together, these processes encompass a variety of implementations, all following the same ALE principles. While the focus is on directional etching, isotropic ALE is also included. As part of this review, the authors also address the role of power pulsing as a predecessor to ALE and examine the outlook of ALE in the manufacturing of advanced semiconductor devices.
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