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Every electronic device we interact with today is packed full of semiconductors. Behind the scenes in our cars, phones, laptops and smart appliances is an orchestra of tiny components each with a specific function, coming together to create a symphony. But what exactly is a semiconductor and how exactly do they work? This blog will give you some quick facts about the tiny components running your day-to-day life.
Semiconductors are built on semiconducting material, which is material with electrical conductivity between metals (good conductors) and insulators (poor conductors). It is important to note that the conductivity can be controlled by adding small amounts of other elements. Hence the importance with care in ESD (Electrostatic Discharge), EOS (Electrical Overstress), and MSL (Moisture Sensitivity Level).
The multitude of components are connected by layers of circuitry. The process of integrating smaller components and packaging them together has made chips more powerful over the years. As Moore’s law states: the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) doubles about every two years.
“Fabs” is short for Semiconductor Fabrication Plants. These fabs contain “clean rooms”, which are enclosed areas with strict controls for air contamination, humidity, and temperature, ensuring that quality is always consistent.
Wafers are highly purified silicon slices which serve as the starting substrate for nearly all chips. Between etching, stripping, and cleaning this process can have up to and beyond 500 different steps to create the desired pattern.
That's about 140 chips for every person on the planet, or 130 million per hour. If all these semiconductors were stacked one on top of another they would extend beyond the maximum cruising altitude for commercial aircraft.
The first semiconductor devices were made of germanium, which was quickly replaced by silicon. Today, more elements are still under evaluation, as part of new compounds or for new applications.
Logic chips perform operations; these include microprocessors - the brains of your cell phone, laptop etc.
Memory chips store data, either temporarily (as in DRAM) or in long-term storage (such as HD drives).
That’s almost 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
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