Researchers, including faculty from the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University, have discovered a new way to make microchips that could lead to producing them faster and better.

A team of five researchers used a laser to remove hydrogen atoms from layers of silicon in a microchip. Normally the atoms are removed by heating the silicon to almost 900 degrees, which can make the silicon unstable.

A laser tuned to a specific frequency breaks away the atoms using a lower temperature, the team reported in this week's issue of the journal Science. Hydrogen atoms are used to temporarily protect against contamination.

"If this discovery could eventually lead to a technology for fast and mass production of high purity silicon crystals at low growth temperatures, the whole semiconductor industry will benefit substantially, as will the solar energy industry, said team member, Zhenyu Zhang, a joint professor of physics with UT and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The other team members are Philip I. Cohen of the University of Minnesota and Leonard C. Feldman, Norman Tolk and Zhiheng Liu of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt, Minnesota and ORNL are filing a joint patent on the process.