Awardee Interviews | Biography: Vincent Donnelly

Vincent Donnelly

Vincent DonnellyProf. Vincent M. Donnelly, University of Houston, “for innovation of surface and plasma diagnostics to evaluate the complex kinetics of plasma processing, and for the development of fundamental reaction mechanisms to explain that complexity.”

Vincent Donnelly is a John and Rebecca Moores Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston. Prior to 2002, he was a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and before that was a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Naval Research Laboratory. His field of research involves experimental studies of plasmas used to manufacture integrated circuits. He received a B.A. in Chemistry from LaSalle University and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. His research includes studies of plasmas and plasma etching, plasma-surface interactions, new nano-patterning methods, and atmospheric pressure micro-discharges.

Plasmas are widely used to deposit and etch thin films in integrated circuits. In plasma etching, bombardment by positive ions allows patterns to be transferred into thin films, making it possible to fabricate integrated circuits with device dimensions of the order of only a hundred atoms. Such precise control has been realized through experiments and modeling, advancing our understanding of the underlying plasma physics and chemistry. Nonetheless, the lack of a more thorough understanding and control continues to hamper the extension of this process to ever smaller, nanometer-scale dimensions. In addition, plasmas have the potential for “disruptive” alternatives to current methods in other applications.

In his early work at Bell Laboratories, Professor Donnelly studied plasma etching reactions and mechanisms, including the first measurements of the reaction probability for fluorine atom etching of silicon and SiO2. He also was among the first to use laser-induced fluorescence to probe processing plasmas, and later introduced a laser desorption method to probe surfaces immersed in plasmas. He also refined optical emission spectroscopy as a quantitative technique for measuring selected reactant species concentrations and electron temperatures in plasmas.

In 2002 he moved to the University of Houston’s Chemical Engineering Department and began to explore a new “Nanopantography” method for massively parallel nanopatterning over large areas, using a monoenergetic, broad ion beam extracted from a DC-biased, pulsed inductively-coupled plasma. Arrays of electrostatic microlenses on the substrate focus “beamlets” entering the lenses to spots that write identical nanofeatures that are 100X smaller than the diameters of the lenses.

He has also introduced a new “Spinning Wall” method for studying plasma interactions with the chamber walls, one of the more important yet least understood aspects of plasma processing. His method involves rapidly rotating a cylindrical substrate embedded in the wall of the plasma chamber, allowing its surface to repeatedly move from the plasma to an analysis chamber in times of less than 1 millisecond. He has used this method to measure reaction probabilities for products that form on prepared surfaces that are exposed to chlorine or oxygen plasmas.
Professor Donnelly has published 200 papers and holds 12 patents. He is a member of the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and is a Fellow of AVS. He was the recipient of the 2003 Plasma Science and Technology Division’s Plasma Prize.