Orientation Control in Thin Films of a High‑χ Block Copolymer with a Surface Active Embedded Neutral Layer

Directed self-assembly (DSA) of block copolymers (BCPs) is an attractive advanced patterning technology being considered for future integrated circuit manufacturing. By controlling interfacial interactions, self-assembled microdomains in thin films of polystyrene-<i>block</i>-poly­(methyl methacrylate), PS-<i>b</i>-PMMA, can be oriented perpendicular to surfaces to form line/space or hole patterns. However, its relatively weak Flory interaction parameter, χ, limits its capability to pattern sub-10 nm features. Many BCPs with higher interaction parameters are capable of forming smaller features, but these “high-χ” BCPs typically have an imbalance in surface energy between the respective blocks that make it difficult to achieve the required perpendicular orientation. To address this challenge, we devised a polymeric surface active additive mixed into the BCP solution, referred to as an embedded neutral layer (ENL), which segregates to the top of the BCP film during casting and annealing and balances the surface tensions at the top of the thin film. The additive comprises a second BCP with a “neutral block” designed to provide matched surface tensions with the respective polymers of the main BCP and a “surface anchoring block” with very low surface energy that drives the material to the air interface during spin-casting and annealing. The surface anchoring block allows the film to be annealed above the glass transition temperature of the two materials without intermixing of the two components. DSA was also demonstrated with this embedded neutral top layer formulation on a chemical patterned template using a single step coat and simple thermal annealing. This ENL technology holds promise to enable the use of high-χ BCPs in advanced patterning applications.