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Alumnus wins 2018 Future Science Prize

Known as the Father of Immersion lithography, an alumnus of The Ohio State University received the highest honor in China for his pioneering lifelong work in semiconductor technology.

Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate, Burn J. Lin, received the 2018 Future Science Prize in the category of Mathematics and Computer Science. It remains the biggest science achievement award in the Greater China Region including Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Award organizers said Lin remains “a hero of the semiconductor industry" to this day.

Now 60 years since integrated circuits (IC) were invented, semiconductor technology has powered the biggest industrial and social revolution in the history of mankind. 

“It is appropriate and compelling to bestow the (award) to an exceptionally accomplished scientist and inventor,” organizers wrote in their nomination.

Lin’s pioneering work in immersion lithography, as well as continuously scaled nano-metric integrated circuit fabrication, revived and extended Moore’s law for multiple generations. 

“Lin’s groundbreaking innovations have revolutionized integrated circuit production to enable the continuous scaling of advanced semiconductor chips down to nano-metric feature dimensions for the most powerful computing and communication applications for the past fifteen years and foreseeable future,” the organization stated. 

According to IEEE’s recent statistics, at least 80% of all transistors in the world are now made with immersion lithography.

Conventional “dry” lithography was used over four decades after the invention of planar integrated circuits in 1959, but encountered an insurmountable barrier in late 1990s to fabricate even smaller circuits. 

Lin foresaw an expensive dead end with the traditional projection-type lithography and proposed to use immersion (or “wet”) lithography, a novel lithographic process with enhanced optical resolution by replacing the air gap between the lens and the wafer surface with a liquid medium.  

Although the concept of immersion lithography was proposed in the early 1980s, it was not a realizable approach, until Lin created critical performance metrics and derived scaling equations for the immersion lithography systems to be fully characterized and optimized, which mapped out scaling laws for the intended super-high-resolution 3D immersion optics.  

Additionally, award organizers explained, Lin investigated and created methods to overcome obstacles relevant to micro bubble formation and the thermodynamic limit of optical diffraction via water. His inventions were proven to be feasible both scientifically and engineering-wise in applying “wet” lithography for advanced IC productions. His breakthrough inventions and enduring technical leadership convinced the entire semiconductor industry to adopt immersion lithography, continuously scaling down silicon IC tech nodes from 65nm to 7nm, delineated by using most cost-effective 193nm ArF laser source for the past 15 years. Moore’s Law was therefore extended by seven generations.  

Created in 2016, candidates for the prize are nominated by leading Chinese scientists from home and abroad upon invitation; The Science Committee is composed of outstanding scientists, formed to ensure the independency and fairness of the selection process.

The Future Science Prize was established to pay tribute to outstanding scientists and reward them for their significant contribution, so as to rekindle the enthusiasm of the public for science and inspire more youngsters to join the noble cause of science.