Reactive ion etching

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Reactive ion etching
Technology Details
Other Names RIE
Technology Plasma etching
Equipment List of RIE equipment

Reactive ion etching (RIE) is a high resolution mechanism for etching materials using reactive gas discharges. It is a highly controllable process that can process a wide variety of materials, including semiconductors, [dielectrics][semiconductors]] and some metals. One major advantage to RIE over other forms of etching is that the process can be designed to be highly anisotropic, allowing for much finer resolution and higher aspect ratios. For a detailed overview of RIE, please review the technology workshop.

Method of operation

Samples are first masked by one of many patterning processes. They are then placed into a vacuum chamber. Gases are introduced into the chamber and then activated by Rf or microwave power to create a plasma consisting of a wide variety of reactive species, ions, and electrons. The reactive species are chosen for their ability to react chemically with the material being etched. A negative DC bias is induced at the substrate by the free electrons which accelerates the ions towards the sample surface. The energy imparted by these ions reaching the surface greatly enhances the effectiveness of the chemical reaction and provides directionality to the etch. Generally some form of passivating component is incorporated such that the etch proceeds only where energetic ions strike the surface.


Many of the same parameters used in plasma etching apply to RIE, including pressure, gas composition, and generator power. Of particular importance is the plasma generation method (commonly a parallel plate or ICP configuration), as they have different advantages depending on the material being etched.

DC bias

A critical parameter specific to RIE is the DC bias applied to the sample, which directly affects the physicality of the etch. Many materials (e.g. SiO2) require high activation energy to react with the gases in the reactor. Other materials (silicon, in particular) may be etched using a passivating component which must be removed on the surface being etched. Still other materials have little to no reactivity and must be physically removed from the surface.

In most reactors, DC bias is not controlled directly, but will depend on the conductance of the plasma and the power applied to the sample.

Deep reactive ion etching

Deep reactive ion etching (DRIE), while often referring specifically to the Bosch process, generally is any RIE used to etch high aspect ratio (> 10:1) features. This may be simply a longer, well controlled RIE etch, or may use a specific process such as cryogenic etching or the Bosch process. For all DRIE equipment at the LNF, please refer to the list of DRIE equipment.


RIE can be used to etch a wide variety of materials, including dielectrics, semiconductors, polymers, and some metals. For information on etching specific materials, please review the sections below.

Dielectric etching

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Below is a general description of the RIE equipment at the LNF. For a complete list, please see list of RIE equipment.

See also

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Further reading