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Ma says chips like those his group made are ready for commercialization. Techniques for manufacturing devices like those Ma and his colleagues have made are becoming more established in the electronics industry, says John Rogers , a professor of materials science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Devices of all shapes and sizes that can communicate wirelessly are proliferating quickly, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. People upgrade their devices often, and outdated devices are commonly thrown out. Mike Orcutt. Researchers show that devices based on a material derived from wood work as well as the communications chip in your smartphone.

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Let's take a closer look at ICs and how they work! Photo: An integrated circuit from the outside. This one comes in a convenient form called a dual-inline package DIP , which consists of a black plastic or ceramic outer case with metal pins down each side for plugging into a bigger electronic circuit board the brown thing you can see in the background. The actual circuit that does the work is a tiny little chip embedded inside the DIP; you can see how it's connected to the DIP's outer pins in the next photo.

Photo: An integrated circuit from the inside. If you could lift the cover off a typical microchip like the one in the top photo and you can't very easily—believe me, I've tried! The integrated circuit is the tiny square in the center. Connections run out from it to the terminals metal pins or legs around the edge.

When you hook up something to one of these terminals, you're actually connecting into the circuit itself. You can just about see the pattern of electronic components on the surface of the chip itself. Open up a television or a radio and you'll see it's built around a printed circuit board PCB : a bit like an electric street-map with small electronic components such as resistors and capacitors in place of the buildings and printed copper connections linking them together like miniature metal streets.

Circuit boards are fine in small appliances like this, but if you try to use the same technique to build a complex electronic machine, such as a computer , you quickly hit a snag.

Forward Motion - A new kind of wood chip

Even the simplest computer needs eight electronic switches to store a single byte character of information. So if you want to build a computer with just enough memory to store this paragraph, you're looking at about characters times 8 or about switches—for a single paragraph! If you plump for switches like they had in the ENIAC—vacuum tubes about the size of an adult thumb—you soon end up with a whopping great big, power-hungry machine that needs its own mini electricity plant to keep it running.

When three American physicists invented transistors in , things improved somewhat. Transistors were a fraction the size of vacuum tubes and relays the electromagnetic switches that had started to replace vacuum tubes in the mids , used much less power, and were far more reliable. But there was still the problem of linking all those transistors together in complex circuits.

Even after transistors were invented, computers were still a tangled mass of wires. Photo: Integrated circuits fit into printed circuit boards PCBs like the green one you can see here. Notice the thin tracks linking the "legs" terminals of two different ICs together.

chip | meaning of chip in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English | LDOCE

Other tracks link the ICs to conventional electronic components such as resistors and capacitors. You can think of the tracks as "streets" making paths between "buildings" where useful things are done the components themselves. There's also a miniaturized version of a circuit board inside an integrated circuit: the tracks are created in microscopic form on the surface of a silicon wafer. Integrated circuits changed all that. The basic idea was to take a complete circuit, with all its many components and the connections between them, and recreate the whole thing in microscopically tiny form on the surface of a piece of silicon.

It was an amazingly clever idea and it's made possible all kinds of "microelectronic" gadgets we now take for granted, from digital watches and pocket calculators to Moon-landing rockets and missiles with built-in satellite navigation. Integrated circuits revolutionized electronics and computing during the s and s. In , Gordon Moore of the Intel Company, a leading chip maker, noticed that the number of components on a chip was doubling roughly every one to two years.

Moore's Law , as this is known, has continued to hold ever since. Interviewed by The New York Times 50 years later, in , Moore revealed his astonishment that the law has continued to hold: "The original prediction was to look at 10 years, which I thought was a stretch. This was going from about 60 elements on an integrated circuit to 60,—a thousandfold extrapolation over 10 years.

I thought that was pretty wild. The fact that something similar is going on for 50 years is truly amazing. Chart: Moore's Law: The number of transistors packed into microchips has roughly doubled every year or two for the last five decades—in other words, it's grown exponentially. If you plot the number of transistors y-axis against the year of launch x-axis for some common microchips from the last few decades yellow stars , you'll get an exponential curve; plotting the logarithm instead, you'll get this straight line. Please note that the vertical y axis of this chart is logarithmic and due to the OpenOffice graphing software I used the horizontal x axis is only vaguely linear.

Source: Plotted using data from Transistor Count , Wikipedia, checked against other sources. How do we make something like a memory or processor chip for a computer? It all starts with a raw chemical element such as silicon, which is chemically treated or doped to make it have different electrical properties If you've read our articles on diodes and transistors , you'll be familiar with the idea of semiconductors.

Traditionally, people thought of materials fitting into two neat categories: those that allow electricity to flow through them quite readily conductors and those that don't insulators. Metals make up most of the conductors, while nonmetals such as plastics , wood , and glass are the insulators. In fact, things are far more complex than this—especially when it comes to certain elements in the middle of the periodic table in groups 14 and 15 , notably silicon and germanium. Normally insulators, these elements can be made to behave more like conductors if we add small quantities of impurities to them in a process known as doping.

If you add antimony to silicon, you give it slightly more electrons than it would normally have—and the power to conduct electricity. Silicon "doped" that way is called n-type. Add boron instead of antimony and you remove some of silicon's electrons, leaving behind "holes" that work as "negative electrons," carrying a positive electric current in the opposite way.


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When small amounts of silicon are added to aluminum, aluminum becomes easier to cast and also has improved strength, hardness, and other properties. In its oxide or silicate form, silicon is used to make concrete, bricks, glass, ceramics, and soap. Silicon metal is also the base material for making silicones used in such products as synthetic oils, caulks and sealers, and anti-foaming agents.

In , world production was around , metric tons excluding China , with Brazil, France, Norway and the United States major producers.

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This is a continued decline compared to the last several years , tons in and , in Though data is not available, China is believed to be the largest producer, followed by the United States. One estimate puts China's production capacity as high as , metric tons per year, with over producers. Exports from this country have increased in recent years. Consumption of silicon metal in the United States was roughly , metric tons, at a cost of 57 cents per pound.

The annual growth rate during was about 3. Demand by the chemical industry mainly silicones was affected by the Asian economic crisis of the late s.

Small Silicon Chip

Silicon was first isolated and described as an element in by a Swedish chemist, Jons Jacob Berzelius. An impure form was obtained in Crystalline silicon was first produced in using electrolysis. The reaction between silica and carbon within an electric arc furnace produces silicon. The type of furnace now used to make silicon, the electric arc furnace, was first invented in by French inventor Paul Louis Toussaint Heroult to make steel. In recent years, furnace technology, including the electrodes used for heating elements, has improved.


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  • Silicon metal is made from the reaction of silica silicon dioxide, SiO2 and carbon materials like coke, coal and wood chips. Silica is typically received in the form of metallurgical grade gravel. This gravel is All materials are received as specified by the manufacturer. The basic process heats silica and coke in a submerged electric arc furnace to high temperatures.

    High temperatures are required to produce a reaction where the oxygen is removed, leaving behind silicon. This is known as a reduction process. In this process, metal carbides usually form first at the lower temperatures. As silicon is formed, it displaces the carbon. Refining processes are used to improve purity. Statistical process control is used to ensure quality.