Silicon Photolithography The PCB Way

[ProjectsInFlight] has been doing some fantastic work documenting his DIY semiconductor fab lately. Next up: exploring down-and-dirty photolithography methods.

If you’ve been following along with this series — and why wouldn’t you? — you’ll recall [ProjectsInFlight]’s earlier experiments, like creating oxide layers on silicon chips with a homebrew tube furnace and exploring etchants that can selectively remove them. But just blasting away the oxide layer indiscriminately isn’t really something you need to do when etching the fine features needed to fabricate a working circuit. The trouble is, most of the common photoresist solutions used by commercial fabs are unobtainium for hobbyists, leading to a search for a suitable substitute.

Surprisingly, PCB photoresist film seemed to work quite well, but not without a lot of optimization by [ProjectsInFlight] to stick it to the silicon using a regular laminator. Also in need of a lot of tweaking was the use of a laser printer to create masks for the photolithography process on ordinary transparency film, including the surprisingly effective method of improving the opacity of prints with acetone vapor. There were also extensive experiments to determine the best exposure conditions, a workable development process, and the right etchants to use. Watch the video below for a deep dive into all those topics as well as the results, which are pretty good.

There’s a lot to be said for the methodical approach that [ProjectsInFlight] is taking here. Every process is explored exhaustively, with a variety of conditions tested before settling on what works best. It’s also nice to see that pretty much all of this has been accomplished with the most basic of materials, all of which are easily sourced and pretty cheap to boot. We’re looking forward to more of the same here, as well as to see what others do with this valuable groundwork.

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3D Printing Gets Small In A Big Way

If you have a 3D printer in your workshop, you probably fret more about how to get bigger objects out of it. However, the University of Amsterdam has a new technique that allows for fast large-scale printing with sub-micron resolution. The technique is a hybrid of photolithography and stereolithography.

One of the problems with printing with fine detail is that print times become very long. However, the new technique claims to have “acceptable production time.” Apparently, bioprinting applications are very much of interest to the technology’s first licensee. There is talk of printing, for example, a kidney scaffold in several hours or a full-sized heart scaffold in less than a day.

Another example application is the production of a chromatography instrument with 200 micron channels and 20 micron restrictions. This requires a printer capable of very fine detail. There are also applications in semiconductors and mechanical metamaterials. Of course, we always take note of photolithography processes because we use them to make PC boards and even integrated circuits. A desktop printer that could do photolithography might open up new ideas for producing electronic circuitry.

If you want to play with photolithography today, [Ben Krasnow] has some advice. Of course, there are several ways to produce PC boards, even with a garden-variety 3D printer.

A homemade seven-segment OLED display

Making OLED Displays In The Home Lab

Just a general observation: when your project’s BOM includes ytterbium metal, chances are pretty good that it’s something interesting. We’d say that making your own OLED displays at home definitely falls into that category.

Of course, the making of organic light-emitting diodes requires more than just a rare-earth metal, not least of which is the experience in the field that [Jeroen Vleggaar] brings to this project. Having worked on OLEDs at Philips for years, [Jeroen] is well-positioned to tackle the complex process, involving things like physical vapor deposition and the organic chemistry of coordinated quinolones. And that’s not to mention the quantum physics of it all, which is nicely summarized in the first ten minutes or so of the video below. From there it’s all about making a couple of OLED displays using photolithography and the aforementioned PVD to build up a sandwich of Alq3, an electroluminescent organic compound, on a substrate of ITO (indium tin oxide) glass. We especially appreciate the use of a resin 3D printer to create the photoresist masks, as well as the details on the PVD process.

The displays themselves look fantastic — at least for a while. The organic segments begin to oxidize rapidly from pinholes in the material; a cleanroom would fix that, but this was just a demonstration, after all. And as a bonus, the blue-green glow of [Jeroen]’s displays reminds us strongly of the replica Apollo DSKY display that [Ben Krasnow] built a while back. Continue reading “Making OLED Displays In The Home Lab”

Interference Patterns Harnessed For Optical Logic Gates

The basics of digital logic are pretty easy to master, and figuring out how the ones and zeroes flow through various kinds of gates is often an interesting exercise. Taking things down a level and breaking the component AND, OR, and NOR gates down to their underlying analog circuits adds some complexity, but the flow of electrons is still pretty understandable. Substitute all that for photons, though, and you’ll enter a strange world indeed.

At least that’s our take on [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s latest project, which is making logic gates from purely optical components. As he himself admits in the video below, this isn’t exactly unexplored territory, but his method, which uses constructive and destructive interference, seems not to have been used before. The basic “circuit” consists of a generator, a pair of diffraction patterns etched into a quartz plate, and an evaluator, which is basically a pinhole in another plate positioned to coincide with the common focal point of the generator patterns. An OR gate is formed when the two generators are hit with in-phase monochromatic light. Making the two inputs out of phase by 180° results in an XOR gate, as destructive interference between the two inputs prevents any light from making it out of the evaluator.

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[Ben Krasnow] Rolls Old School Camera Out For Photolithography

In a time when cameras have been reduced to microchips, it’s ironic that the old view camera, with its bellows and black cloth draped over the viewscreen for focusing, endures as an icon for photography. Such technology appears dated and with no application in the modern world, but as [Ben Krasnow] shows us, an old view camera is just the thing when you want to make homemade microchips. (Video, embedded below.)

Granted, the photolithography process [Ben] demonstrates in the video below is quite a bit upstream from the creation of chips. But mastering the process on a larger scale is a step on the way. The idea is to create a high-resolution photograph of a pattern — [Ben] chose both a test pattern and, in a nod to the season, an IRS tax form — that can be used as a mask. The camera he chose is a 4×5 view camera, the kind with lens and film connected by adjustable bellows. He found that modifications were needed to keep the film fixed at the focal plane, so he added a vacuum port to the film pack to suck the film flat. Developing film has always been magical, and watching the latent images appear on the film under the red light of the darkroom really brings us back — we can practically smell the vinegary stop solution.

[Ben] also steps through the rest of the photolithography process — spin coating glass slides with photoresist, making a contact print of the negative under UV light, developing the print, and sputtering it with titanium. It’s a fascinating process, and the fact that [Ben] mentions both garage chip-maker [Sam Zeloof] and [Justin Atkin] from the Thought Emporium means that three of our favorite YouTube mad scientists are collaborating. The possibilities are endless.

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Homemade Integrated Circuits Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 14th at noon Pacific for the Homemade Integrated Circuits Hack Chat with Sam Zeloof!

While most of us are content to buy the chips we need to build our projects, there’s a small group of hackers more interested in making the chips themselves. What it takes the big guys a billion-dollar fab to accomplish, these hobbyists are doing with second-hand equipment, chemicals found in roach killers and rust removers, and a lot of determination to do what no DIYer has done before.

Sam Zeloof is one of this dedicated band, and we’ve been following his progress for years. While he was still in high school, he turned the family garage into a physics lab and turned out his first simple diodes. Later came a MOSFET, and eventually the Z1, a dual-differential amp chip that is the first IC produced by a hobbyist using photolithography.

Sam just completed his first year at Carnegie-Mellon, and he’s agreed to take some precious summer vacation time to host the Hack Chat. Join us as we learn all about the Z1, find out what improvements he’s made to his process, and see what’s next for him both at college and in his own lab.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 14 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Of Roach Killer And Rust Remover: Sam Zeloof’s Garage-Made Chips

A normal life in hacking, if there is such a thing, seems to follow a predictable trajectory, at least in terms of the physical space it occupies. We generally start small, working on a few simple projects on the kitchen table, or if we start young enough, perhaps on a desk in our childhood bedroom. Time passes, our skills increase, and with them the need for space. Soon we’re claiming an unused room or a corner of the basement. Skills build on skills, gear accumulates, and before you know it, the garage is no longer a place for cars but a place for pushing back the darkness of our own ignorance and expanding our horizons into parts unknown.

It appears that Sam Zeloof’s annexation of the family garage occurred fairly early in life, and to a level that’s hard to comprehend. Sam seems to have caught the hacking bug early, and by the time high school rolled around, he was building out a remarkably well-equipped semiconductor fabrication lab at home. Sam has been posting his progress regularly on his own blog and on Twitter, and he dropped by the 2018 Superconference to give everyone a lesson on semiconductor physics and how he became the first hobbyist to produce an integrated circuit using lithographic processes.

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