In proximity X-ray lithography there is no imaging system in the traditional sense of the word. There are no mirrors, lenses or other means of manipulating the radiation to form an image from that of a pattern (mask). Rather, in proximity X-ray lithography, mask and imaging systems are one and the same. The radiation that illuminates the mask carries the pattern information in the region of the wavefronts that have been attenuated. The detector (photoresist) is placed so close to the mask itself that the image is formed in the region where diffraction has not yet been able to deteriorate the pattern itself. The quality of the image formation then is controlled directly by the interaction between the mask and the radiation field. In turn, this means that both the illumination field and the mask are critical. The properties of the materials used in making the mask thus play a central role in determining the quality of the image. For instance, edge roughness and slope can strongly influence the image by providing the equivalent of a blur in the diffraction process. This blur is beneficial in reducing the high frequency components in the aerial image but it needs to be controlled and be repeatable. The plating (or other physical deposition) process may create variation in density (and thickness) in the deposited film, that will show up as linewidth variation in the image because of local changes in the contrast; the same applies to variations in the carrier membrane. In the case of subtractive process, variations in edge profile across the mask must be minimized.
The variations in material composition, thickness and density may all affect the finale image quality; in the case of the resist, local variations in acid concentration may have strong effect in linewidth control (this effect is of course common to all lithographies).
Another place where materials will affect the final image quality is in the condensing system. Mirrors will exhibit some degree of surface roughness, leading to a scattered radiation away from the central (coherent) beam. For scanning systems, this is not harmful since no power is lost in the scattering process and a blur is actually created that reduces the degree of spatial coherence. Filters may also exhibit the same roughness; typically it will not affect the image formation. The presence of surface (changes of reflectivity) or bulk (impurities) defects may however strongly alter the uniformity of the transmitted beam. This is particularly true of rolled Be filters and windows, which may include contaminants of high-Z materials. Hence, the grain structure of the window plays a very important role in determining image uniformity.
Finally, a seemingly minor but important area is that of the gas used in the exposure area, typically helium. The gas fulfills several needs: heat exchange medium, to thermally clamp the mask to the wafer; low-loss X-ray transmission medium; protection from reactive oxygen radicals and ozone formation. Small amounts of impurities (air) may have a very strong effect on the transmission, and non-uniform distributions are particularly deleterious.
All these factors need to be controlled so that the final image is within the required tolerances. Unfortunately, some of these are difficult to characterize in the visible (e.g., reflectivity variations) and testing at X-ray wavelengths is necessary. Although these obstacles are by no means unsurmountable, foresight is necessary in order to deliver a functional X-ray lithography process.
This work was supported by various agencies, including ARPA/ONR/NRL and the National Science Foundation.