A perfect match?
ZEISS as a specialist in optics, including for microscopes and optical systems for manufacturing semiconductors. At first sight a perfect match. But when I looked a second time, it involved a change of roles. From a customer to a manufacturer. From academia to industry. From user to product manager, initially with no direct involvement in semiconductor manufacture. The position actually demanded three to five years' professional experience as a product manager. But in my development position I was allowed to learn "on the job" everything I was missing for the actual job. I took on responsibility right from the start, traveling with the rest of the team to trade shows and exhibitions – and meeting distinguished scientists right up to the present day. It's my job to be a sort of interpreter or go-between, bringing our customers and developers together and helping each side understand more about the other. Working in a small inter-disciplinary team I share responsibility for aligning applications to the needs of our customers and for developing new areas of application in semiconductor research. So, when I look again (the third time), the perfect match – so far!
Looking with 91 times greater precision
My journey with the ZEISS MultiSEM, the world’s fastest scanning electron microscope, began in 2012. To put it in a nutshell, with its 91 parallel electron beams the MultiSEM does what you would otherwise need 91 electron microscopes to do. It generates up to 1.5 terabytes of image data every hour and, with this speed and depth of detail, is unique in the world.
But the faster the data capture, the longer it takes to evaluate the data due to the sheer data volume. The MultiSEM has been around since 2014, and it has taken all this time for the first publications based on the assessment of MultiSEM data to appear. I think we're allowed to give ourselves a little pat on the back for our contribution to these new discoveries. I'd completed the journey from the application to the development side. But the journey on the development side was not over.
I never cease to be amazed at the many similarities between brain and semiconductor structures.
Exploring nanometer small conductor tracks
But why does the semiconductor industry need microscopes in microchip production? In the final analysis chip manufacturers are doing the same as neuroscientists: they are slicing up chip structures and reconstructing them in digital form. In taking this course of action the neuroscientist wants to discover the structure of the brain and how different areas function and interact with each other. In the world of semiconductor manufacturing, it's already known how the smallest transistor structures are constructed on microchips – and how they should function. In this case however, the question is "Are the structures and properties of these nanometer-small conductor paths all as they should be?" The answer to this question can be found with the aid of the MultiSEM – which helps semiconductor manufacturers supply our world with high-performance microchips.