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The University of Delaware, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Electrical engineering student wins Colburn Prize

Xu Ma, who completed his doctorate in electrical engineering and computer engineering at the University of Delaware in 2009, has won the Allen P. Colburn Prize for his dissertation, “Optimization of Resolution Enhancement Techniques in Optical Lithography.” Ma was advised by Gonzalo Arce, the Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical Engineering.

The prize is given annually to recognize the best dissertation in engineering and mathematical sciences. Ma is the fourth student advised by Arce to win the Colburn Prize in the past 18 years. Yinbo Li was selected in 2006, Juan Gonzalez in 2002, and Kenneth Barner in 1992.

Lithography is a patterning method capable of structuring material on a fine scale, which is often applied to the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Due to the resolution limits of optical lithography systems, the electronics industry has relied on resolution enhancement techniques (RETs) to compensate and minimize mask distortions as they are projected onto semiconductor wafers. Ma developed a mathematical method for optimizing RETs.

“The ability to make ever faster and more powerful integrated circuits and processors requires shrinking the fundamental size of transistors and circuit elements,” says Barner, who is now chairperson of the UD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “The ability to continue this miniaturization is currently reaching fundamental limits. Dr. Ma's research will help stretch those limits, yielding a vital contribution to the rapid advances in integrated circuits that have spanned approximately 50 years.”


The dissertation results have been extended and published as a book, Computational Lithography, which is coauthored by Ma and Arce and published by Wiley & Sons.

The publisher refers to the book as “a unified summary of the models and optimization methods used in computational lithography” and credits it with being the first “to address the computational optimization of RETs in optical lithography, providing an in-depth discussion of optimal optical proximity correction, phase shifting mask, and off-axis illumination RET tools that use model-based mathematical optimization approaches.”

Ma is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Video and Image Processing Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Article by Diane Kukich


Xu Ma


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