The History of the Silicon Chip

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An integrated circuit is much better known as a silicon chip in the world of electronics. A silicon chip is the miniature form of an electronic circuit, which is a connection of electronic components held together by conductors to enable electric current flow. Silicon chips are manufactured in the surface of a thin wafer of semiconductor material, and they are today ubiquitous in the world of electronics.

  1. Origins

    • When the transistor was invented in 1947--the brainchild of John Bardeen (1908 to 1991), Walter Brattain (1902 to 1987) and William Shockley (1910 to 1989)--it replaced vacuum tubes, which were used as electronic amplifiers in radios and TV sets at the time, as well as on/off computer switches. Compared to the transistor, vacuum tubes were bulky. Worse, they acted like light bulbs: they had the tendency to grow hot and burn out.

      However, by the late 1950s, transistors began to show their limitations. For one, putting together its components by hand could not catch up with the growing complexity of technological advances. Moreover, manufacturers began to long for something even smaller than transistors.

    Geoffrey Dummer

    • The first person to come up with the idea of a silicon chip was British radar scientist, Geoffrey Dummer (1909 to 2002). His concept, originated when he was working for the Royal Radar Establishment of the British Ministry of Defense, centered around placing a whole electronic circuit on a piece of silicon. He revealed his theory at the Symposium on Progress in Quality Electronic Components in Washington, D.C. on 1952. However, 4 years later--in 1956--he failed to realize his idea when attempting to build the first silicon chip.

    Jack Kilby

    • It is Jack Kilby (1923 to 2005), working at Texas Instruments at the time, who created the first silicon chip, 2 years after Dummer had failed to do so. When he was working on smaller electrical circuits for a certain work project, Kilby decided to integrate the components in one block of semiconductor material. Thus the integrated circuit--or more famously, the silicon chip--was born.

    Robert Noyce

    • Robert Noyce (1927 to 1990) is considered a co-inventor of the silicon chip. This is because he came up with his own version of the integrated circuit, a year and a half after Kilby. He improved on Kilby's invention by coming up with a more refined way of connecting the chip's components, thus preparing it for mass production. His version is sometimes referred to as the microchip. Noyce would go on to co-found Intel--the world's largest and most famous chip maker--in 1968.

    Today

    • Silicon chips are widely used in many types of electronic equipment. They include computers, cell phones, television sets, cars and calculators.

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