Physics: Principles and Problems


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For use with Chapter 29
Solid State Electronics

Micro Microchips
Posted December 1st, 2001

As technology gets more advanced, it gets smaller. Only a few years ago, cellular phones were big and bulky. Today, they are so small that some cell phone users have reported complaints that the phones are too small. Likewise, computers are becoming smaller, while getting faster.

During any technology development, there are quantum leaps in performance. In the area of electronics, the invention of the transistor marked the first quantum leap that allowed technology to miniaturize. Originally, electronics were based on vacuum tubes and large, bulky equipment. Transistors made things much smaller, giving rise to portable radios and televisions.

The second quantum leap in electronics occurred with the invention of the microchip. The electronics imprinted on these tiny silicon chips were so small that the entire device could fit on the tip of a finger. As technology advanced, researchers found ways to make the chips more efficient, smaller, and faster.

In 1965, an engineer at Intel named Gordon Moore made the statement that computer power doubles every 18 to 24 months. This statement has been proved true since it was made in 1965, and has become known as "Moore's Law". Because processor speeds double every year, computers may become obsolete in only a few months.

Microchips are limited by the size of the silicon wafers that hold the chips. Overcoming this barrier of size has initiated the most recent of quantum leap in technology. This new technology, known as nanotechnology, uses chips that are only a few atoms wide.

Computer manufacturers, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, have worked closely with the research departments at UCLA to perfect this nanotechnology. According to Hewlett-Packard, nanotechnology could emerge in the next ten years.

Hewlett-Packard and IBM have announced a patent on a new process that will allow them to mass- produce nanotechnology microchips. The basic concept of a nanochip is to make thin wires only a few atoms wide in order to replace the inner workings of a regular microchip. A process must then be used to turn the current on and off through these ultra-thin wires.

When this technology has been fully developed, it will be possible to design a computer so small that the entire machine will fit on the head of a pin.

Use the Internet to research the development of microchips in computers. With a small group, develop a timeline of this history, and present it to the class.



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Physics: Principles and Problems