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To make the 45 nanometer chip, Intel engineers shined ultraviolet light through a glass and chrome mask, which is a stencil that outlines where the features will be made. Because the wavelength of light used was 193 nanometers – much larger than the chip features – engineers had to tweak the mask design to compensate for the blurriness that can occur when the wavelength of light is larger than the mask features it passes through.

But these tricks have their limitations. As chip components become even smaller, new tactics will have to be explored. One option is extreme ultraviolet lithography, in which the wavelength of light is just 13.5 nanometers. This would allow features below 10 nanometers to be crafted. Bohr says that Intel is “still exploring different options” for photolithography to make their future chips at 32 nanometers, 22 nanometers, or smaller, and one option may include extreme ultraviolet lithography.

With Moore’s Law operating in extended lifetime mode, how long can chip makers keep up the pace? Dennis Buss, vice president of silicon technology development at Texas Instruments, suspects that the technology could go on until 2015 or 2020, when 10 nanometer chip features are predicted. At that point, he says “scaling as we know it will definitely stagnate.”

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