IEEE Awards Booklet - 2020 - 1

MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT

The Father of FinFETs
Chenming Hu took
transistors into the
third dimension
to save Moore's Law
BY TEKL A S. PERRY

PHOTOGR APHY BY PETER ADAMS

It was 1995. Advances in chip technology continued
apace with Moore's Law, the observation that the number of transistors on a chip doubles roughly every two
years, generally because of the shrinking size of those
transistors.
But the horizon no longer seemed limitless. Indeed,
for the first time, murmurs throughout the semiconductor industry predicted the death of Moore's Law. The
golden days would be coming to an end, the predictions
went, when the size of a critical transistor feature, then
around 350 nanometers, reached below 100 nm. Even
the U.S. government was worried-so worried that
DARPA raised an alarm, launching a program seeking
new chip technologies that could extend progress.
Chenming Hu, then a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, jumped at the challenge. He immediately
thought of a solution-actually, two solutions-and, on
a plane ride a few days later, sketched out those designs.
One of those ideas, raising the channel through which
current flows so that it sticks out above the surface of the
chip, became the FinFET, a technology that earned Hu
this year's IEEE Medal of Honor "for a distinguished career of developing and putting into practice semiconductor models, particularly 3-D device structures, that have
helped keep Moore's Law going over many decades."
The story of the FinFET didn't begin with Hu putting pencil to paper on an airline tray table, of course.
It started in Taiwan, where Hu was a curious child,
conducting stovetop experiments on seawater and dismantling-and  reassembling-alarm clocks. As he approached the end of high school, he was still interested
in science, mostly chemistry. But instead of targeting a
chemistry degree, he applied for the electrical engineering program at the National Taiwan University, even
though he didn't really know what an EE actually did. It
was simply a challenge-the electrical engineering program required the highest test scores to get in.
During his last year of college, Hu discovered the industry he would later shake up, thanks to Frank Fang,
then a visiting professor from the United States.

FROM IEEE SPECTRUM MAY 2020 PRINT ISSUE.
1 | 2020 IEEE AWARDS BOOKLET



IEEE Awards Booklet - 2020

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