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Student saves Intel millions
Author: Eric Gold
Posted: June 10, 2010

INTEL IS FABRICATING microprocessors using an environmentally friendly method that is saving the company tens of millions of dollars, thanks to June graduate Nabil Mistkawi.

Mistkawi, a process engineer at Intel's Hillsboro facility, will receive a doctorate in chemistry at the June 13 commencement. His one-of-a-kind chemical formulation for Intel was the basis for his dissertation.

Microprocessors, the "brains" of personal computers and other devices, are often made from a dozen layers of several different materials. To make the incredibly tiny chips, some materials must be partially, yet uniformly, removed. This used to be done with expensive and highly toxic solvents, but about six years ago a senior Intel engineer asked Mistkawi to look for a better way. Three days later, Mistkawi demonstrated the concept that would become his Ph.D. dissertation topic, a green "wet etching" process that only dissolves certain materials without damaging other chip materials.

The process takes just two minutes, and the etching solution is 98 percent water, with less fluoride than toothpaste. Intel implemented the method in 2006, scaled up in 2007, and it is now part of the standard manufacturing process for its chips.

"I like to have students work on projects that actually amount to something tangible," says Shankar Rananavare, Mistkawi's PSU faculty adviser. "It's one thing to make it work in a test tube and beaker. It's quite another to do so at 8,000 gallons each week."