es about microchips is that the chip is definitely the mile stone in computer hardware. Computer chips make up our everyday lives enabling many of the things we use like coffee machines, microwaves, ATMs, and computers work and are reliable for use. These chips are no larger than a fingernail and are getting smaller every other year and are amazingly capable of holding over 1.5 million transistors. The computer chip’s history is very short and many of us (including myself) do not remember a time when we were without integrated circuits. The things that we do remember are the advances and theories major companies, Professors, and engineers discover.
The first computers used components called vacuum tubes. These vacuum tubes functioned as electronic switches. The tubes worked fine except that they were not reliable. Because of the big structure vacuum tubes would generate intense heat, which caused many of the components to deteriorate, and consumed enormous amounts of power. A smaller flow of electrons was sought after, and what they found were transistors. Transistors changed the way computers could and would be built.
The integrated circuit was invented by Jack Kilby, an engineer at Texas Instruments, and independently by Robert Noyce of Fair Child Semi-conductor. Then integrated circuit, or chip, combined multiple transistors into a small silicon disc. This silicon chip was the backbone of the development of smaller systems.
Computer chips have a phenomenal rate of performance over time and was considered as a revolutionary device. According to Moore’s Law: The number of components in a single chip doubles every two years. Computers have since become cheaper and their capabilities have increased exponentially over time.
HOW IS A COMPUTER CHIP MADE?
A Computer chip is a tiny piece of material, that contains a complex electronic circuit and are made by placing and removing thin layers of insulating conducting and semi-conducting materials in hundreds of steps. The bodies of most chips are made of silicon and are used because silicon is a semi-conductor.
Clean rooms are special laboratories where a lot of the manufacturing process is performed. The components of a chip are so small that the tiniest dust particle could ruin a chip. These clean rooms are very sterile and are one thousand times cleaner than hospitals. People who work in these laboratories are required to wear bunny suits and use an air shower to remove any dust form the suits before entering these rooms.
The first step in the manufacturing process involves melting the silicon crystals. After these crystals have reached its melting point seed crystals are carefully dipped into the melted silicon to form a cylindrical ingot five to ten inches in diameter and several feet long. This long ingot is then smoothed and cut into wafers. The manufacturing of these wafers can take from ten to thirty days. Each wafer forms the foundation for hundreds of chips. Engineers use a computer-aided circuit design program to design each layer of the chip. Depending on the amount of layers a chip may take a month to several work years to complete.
A robot because of the use of dangerous chemicals does the next step. The robot polishes, sterilizes, and cleans the silicon wafer in a chemical bath. The wafers are then placed in a diffusion oven where they are coated with photo resist.
After the photo resist is applied, the wafers are put through a process called photolithography which patterns almost every layer into the shape of specific electronic components. An Ultra violet light projected through the glass mask prints each layers circuit pattern on the photo resist.
The photo resist that is exposed to the light becomes hard while the photo resist covered by the chip remains soft. Channels in these layers of materials are then etched off. The soft photo resist and some of the surface materials are etched away with hot gases, leaving circuit pathways. This step is repeated with each layer of the chip.
Manufacturers add certain impurities to the silicon chips like Boron and Phosphorus to enable the chips to conduct electricity at room temperature. The doped regions form the electronic components, which will be able to conduct electricity. Some chips contain millions of components. Manufacturers create thin lines of metal (usually aluminum) to connect the tiny circuits. When all the circuit layers are added, a machine tests individual chips on the wafer by applying electrical current.
In a process called dicing a Diamond saw cuts the wafer into individual chips called die. Each packaged chip is tested once more and is ready to be sent to companies of who will include them in a wide range of items.
WHAT LIES BENEATH THE CHIP?
For years, chip designers have been signing their work with tiny drawings and burying them deep into integrated circuits. These tiny creatures are too small to be seen with the naked eye, so these chips are put under a microscope with a magnification strength of 100x. These images are revealed in tiny spaces on the microchips that run our computers, cell phones, and video games.
These cartoons are sometimes the company logo, a favorite cartoon character like Mickey Mouse, or are pictures of some industry inside jokes understood by a handful of designers, and some are unique, sort of a signature for its designer.
WHAT LIES IN THE FUTURE FOR COMPUTER CHIPS?
In the movie The Island of Dr. Monroe, Monroe made a society that had chips implanted in them since birth. With these chips he was able to control what the ?people’ on his island did. I do not think that this type of control could ever be accepted in society but we are not that far in developing chips that identify who we are. I recently read an article about a professor at the University of Reading in England who has had a silicon chip transponder implanted into his arm. He has done this to demonstrate how computers and humans might be able to communicate in the future.
The chip was implanted into Professor Warwick’s arm in a surgical procedure that lasted only fifteen minutes. The chip is a commercially available product used in computers and other products for identification. Since the chip has been in his arm Warwick has turned on computers just by coming into a room, doors open, and computers say “Hello Professor Warwick,” or tell him how many e-mail messages he has.
Although the implant is temporary, the futures of computer chips are endless. In the future keyboards and mice will be of no use, predicted Warwick. “This is the communications revolution between humans and computers,” he said.
Computer chips have affected our society in many ways. They have made life easier and faster to live with. We can only imagine the type of things that lie ahead for these chips. But until then our keyboards and mice will have to do.
Melear, Charles. Computer Chip. Discovery Channel School.2000. http://www.discoveryschool.com/homeworkhelp/worldbook/atozscience/ c/127862.html(18 Nov. 2000).
Sanchez-Klein, Jana. Professor Implants Computer Chip in Arm. PC World Today 27 Aug. 1998: 1-7.
Shelly, Cashman, Vermaat, and Tim J. Walker. “How Computer Chips Are Made.” Cambridge, Massachussetts: Course Technology, 2000.
Silicon Art Gallery. Chipworks.