Molecular Imprints was formed in February 2001 based on research done at University of Texas, Austin by Professor Grant Willson and Professor S.V. Sreenivasan. The company was spun off under UT’s technology licensing office to develop imprint lithography systems for semiconductor device manufacturers.
The firm has secured $12 million in Series A funding, led by Alloy Ventures and including Huntington Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Asset Management, KT Ventures, the venture arm of KLA-Tencor, Motorola Ventures, Lam Research, and an undisclosed corporate investor. The company has received a SBIR contract worth $100K and a $2.4 million federal contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Additional capital is currently being raised from strategic partners. The company has 26 employees.
Molecular Imprints’ imprint lithography system would be used to imprint patterns on a wafer made of substances such as gallium arsenide or indium phosphide. The pattern is initially etched on a press template made of quartz. The template is covered with a self-assembling monomer layer, which prevents anything from sticking to it. The wafer is covered with an organic liquid ultraviolet-curable monomer that solidifies into a polymer when the press is lowered, exposing the wafer to UV light.
The technique can create patterns with nano-scale resolution and is applicable to nano-devices, MEMS and optical communications components and devices. According to Schumaker, the templates will be comparable in cost, if not less expensive, than traditional photomasks. Initially, the system will be able to pattern lines in the 100nm range, although e-beam width patterning is feasible.
Initial applications will focus on compound semiconductor wafers like gallium arsenide or indium phosphide, as well as thin film materials. The rational behind this is that these processes tend to have less stringent quality, throughput, die size, and line width requirements than high volume commodity CMOS processes. Given a field size of 25mm2, the system could pattern roughly 625 1 mm2 GaAs die, reducing defect rates. The initial system will also not be automated, with throughput based on operator speed, which lends itself to lower volume applications. Future systems will feature more automation.
Molecular Imprints has one undisclosed customer and will begin shipping its imprint lithography system in late Q4 or early Q1. The multi-million dollar system will be significantly less expensive than traditional lithography systems. The company is working with Motorola to design the way to etch the quartz templates.
Norman Schumaker, Founder, President and CEO (previously CEO of FOReTEL Associates, an Austin-based consulting firm. Before that, he was the founder, chairman, CEO and president of EMCORE, a manufacturer of semi process systems. He also managed the New Materials and Technology Group at AT&T Bell Labs.)
Professor Grant Willson (Rashid Engineering Regents Chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry)
Sreenivasan (an associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department)