The field of plasma etching is reviewed. Plasma etching, a revolutionary extension of the technique of physical sputtering, was introduced to integrated circuit manufacturing as early as the mid 1960s and more widely in the early 1970s, in an effort to reduce liquid waste disposal in manufacturing and achieve selectivities that were difficult to obtain with wet chemistry. Quickly,the ability to anisotropically etch silicon, aluminum, and silicon dioxide in plasmas became the breakthrough that allowed the features in integrated circuits to continue to shrink over the next 40 years. Some of this early history is reviewed, and a discussion of the evolution in plasma reactor design is included. Some basic principles related to plasma etching such as evaporation rates and Langmuir–Hinshelwood adsorption are introduced. Etching mechanisms of selected materials, silicon,silicon dioxide, and low dielectric-constant materials are discussed in detail. A detailed treatment is presented of applications in current silicon integrated circuit fabrication. Finally, some predictions are offered for future needs and advances in plasma etching for silicon and nonsilicon-based devices.

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