OpenLearn Scotland
OpenLearn Scotland

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

OpenLearn Scotland

3.5 The incredible shrinking chip

This course focuses on the creation of a semiconductor transistor – a versatile tiny transistor that is now at the heart of the electronics industry. In video clips the history of the incredible shrinking chip, its Scottish connections and an explanation of the physics that make chips work are accompanied by a reconstruction of the making of a transistor using the crude techniques of yesteryear.

In this course we follow two Scottish computer engineers with little or no physics knowledge as they set out to repeat the Nobel Prize-winning experiment from 1947 that resulted in the semiconductor transistor. The versatility of that transistor is now at the heart of the electronics industry. Millions of transistor switches are shrunk down into the microprocessors found in computers, mobile phones and almost everything else electrical.

There is an interview with Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, about the law of computing that bears his name. It's a rule of thumb which says that processor power doubles every eighteen months. The video footage shows how the industry has managed to keep Moore's Law going for nearly 30 years. It explains the physics that makes chips work, and how the same physics will eventually trip the industry up.

To access this material click on the course link below. It leads to a separate OpenLearn course and will open in a new window.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this free course you should be able to:

  • understand the basic physics that makes chips work;

  • define Moore's Law.



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