Introduction and Summary
Among the research laboratories of the Department of Defense, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has enjoyed a tradition of excellence in basic research, driven by the premise that expertise at the forefront of science and technology should reside within the military branch of the government. In the past, NRL has been strongly represented in the field of plasma physics, especially in pulsed power, particle beams, and laser-plasma interactions, and in the applications of these fields to controlled fusion. The horizons of plasma physics have, however, broadened in the last decade, and the frontiers of this discipline have moved to areas with lower energy content, such as space plasmas and plasma processing.
The fastest growing area within plasma physics is its application to the fabrication of materials and manufacture of devices, particularly of semiconductor devices. As part of its long-term strategic planning, NRL has been considering whether to divert some of its research capability to this new field. At the request of NRL, the Panel on Plasma Processing was formed to provide guidance on the following general questions: (1) What are some of the research opportunities in the field as a whole; (2) Does the existing NRL research capability in plasma physics, chemistry, surface science, and materials processing provide a sufficient base for building a focused research program that can address these opportunities; and, if so, (3) What other issues, such as outside collaborations, would need to be addressed?
The panel finds that many opportunities exist for the research capabilities resident at NRL to have significant impact on the use of plasmas in industrial manufacturing. In Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 through Chapter 8, research opportunities are presented in the specific areas of modeling and simulation of plasma processing, semiconductor processing, plasma deposition and polymerization, ion implantation and surface modification, thermal plasmas, flat panel displays, and low-temperature plasmas. In view of the shifting emphasis in plasma physics away from high-temperature applications toward low-temperature industrial plasmas and based on its identification of selected opportunities in the field and its evaluation of NRL's research capabilities in chemistry, materials science, surface science, and plasma physics, the panel recommends the following.
The Naval Research Laboratory should develop a coordinated and focused program in plasma processing and processing science. The program should have the following features:
The program should focus on a few emerging technologies, such as those drawn from the suggestions in Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 through Chapter 8, on which NRL efforts could have a strong impact and for which NRL could strive to become a nationally recognized center. Each chapter includes a section entitled “A Role for NRL” that identifies research directions.
In redirecting some of its resources to plasma processing and processing science, NRL should capitalize on its tradition of excellence in basic research by focusing the program on areas where it can be a national leader, without directly competing with industry or other established national programs on near-term objectives. NRL's emphasis on fundamental science should be maintained.
By nature, plasma processing and plasma science are highly interdisciplinary fields. Therefore, collaboration among the existing groups at NRL in a focused research program is a prerequisite for success. The program should have a formalized structure, with its own
director to ensure coordination among the groups, and include an ongoing seminar series with external speakers designed to facilitate cooperation, communication, and interest among the participants.
The research program should be well balanced in terms of experimental and modeling efforts. It should strive toward establishing the knowledge base as well as the technology base for the chosen emerging technologies.
To establish and maintain contact with the mainstream of processing science, NRL should form collaborations with industry, universities, and other laboratories. NRL has had experience with setting up Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and could use these as mechanisms for accomplishing the goal of increased collaboration. ( Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 through Chapter 8, identify current academic, industrial, and federal laboratory efforts in the field.)
It is the judgment of the panel that NRL has sufficient facilities in place to enable it to play a key role in many important issues pertaining to the plasma processing of semiconductors in ultralarge-scale integrated (ULSI) manufacturing. It is also the panel's judgment that the first priority for NRL should be to intensify interactions with the outside world to understand the current issues and to gain insight on where to focus its efforts. NRL personnel should increase their involvement with the materials processing community by attending relevant conferences, presenting contributed papers, and seeking invitations to give invited papers. As NRL implements the recommendations of this panel and redirects its research thrusts in the area of plasma processing of materials, the Laboratory management and research team should be prepared for the period of learning, retraining, and reorganization that will be required for it to become a significant and respected element in the field. Chapter 9 offers specific conclusions on how NRL's capabilities in plasma physics, chemistry, surface science, and materials processing can be used to support the research program that is recommended in this report.