1 The incredible shrinking chip
Two Scottish computer engineers with little or no physics knowledge set out to make a semiconductor transistor. This was 50 years ago, and their efforts gained them the Nobel Prize. The versatility of that transistor is now at the heart of the electronics industry. Millions of transistor switches are shrunk down into the microprocessors that are found in computers, mobile phones and almost everything else electrical.
The first transistor took years to plan and make; today more are made every day than there are people on the earth. In the following video clips, volunteers struggle to make a transistor using crude technology. There is also an explanation of the remarkable scientific advances that have now made the chip ubiquitous. The two volunteers discover the past while the presenter looks to the future.
The video clips include an interview with Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, about the law of computing that bears his name. It's a rule of thumb that says processor power doubles every eighteen months. The video footage shows how the industry has managed to keep Moore's Law going for several decades. It explains the physics that make chips work, and how the same physics will eventually trip up the industry.
It is predicted that silicon will run out of steam in the near future, when the fundamental physical limit will be reached and a radical new technology will be needed.
The final part of the video returns to Silicon Glen and demonstrates how well the transistors built by the two volunteers actually work.
As you watch the following video clips, make notes and list the issues described that affect the lifespan of the microchip.
Click to view the video extract (Part 1, 10 minutes).
Transcript: The incredible shrinking chip - part one
Click to view the video extract (Part 2, 7 minutes).
Transcript: The incredible shrinking chip - part two
Click to view the video extract (Part 3, 11 minutes).
Transcript: The incredible shrinking chip - part three
Click to view the video extract (Part 4, 3 minutes).