The integration of microchips in almost all spheres of life today is impressive. This is due to the fact that microchips come with a lot of benefits. In this guide, we’ll consider the benefits of microchips. Then you can decide if you’d want to also start using it.
What is a Microchip?
A microchip (sometimes just called a “chip”) is a unit of packaged computer circuitry (usually called an integrated circuit) that is manufactured from a material such as silicon at a very small scale. Microchips are made for program logic (logic or microprocessor chips) and for computer memory (memory or RAM chips). Microchips are also made that include both logic and memory and for special purposes such as analog-to-digital conversion, bit slicing, and gateways.
On the chip, transistors act as miniature electrical switches that can turn a current on or off. The pattern of tiny switches is created on the silicon wafer by adding and removing materials to form a multilayered latticework of interconnected shapes.
Silicon is the material of choice in the chip industry. Unlike the metals normally used to conduct electrical currents, silicon is a ‘semiconductor’, meaning that its conductive properties can be increased by mixing it with other materials such as phosphorus or boron. This makes it possible to turn an electrical current on or off.
The good news is that it’s everywhere! Silicon is made from sand, and it is the second most abundant element on earth after oxygen. Silicon wafers are made using a type of sand called silica sand, which is made of silicon dioxide. The sand is melted and cast in the form of a large cylinder called an ‘ingot’. This ingot is then sliced into thin wafers.
Furthermore, a microchip the size of your fingernail contains billions of transistors, so it’s easy to understand just how small the features on a chip need to be. Chip features are measured in nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter or a millionth of a millimeter.
For comparison, a human red blood cell is 7,000 nanometers in diameter, and the average virus is 14 nanometers. The smallest structures on the most advanced chips are currently 10 nanometers.
Chip manufacturers add other metals, such as aluminum, copper, and gold, to enhance the chip’s capabilities. Many microchips are only 2 to 3 millimeters square and a couple of millimeters thick. The actual circuit design is drawn onto the chip using ultraviolet light with a stencil, or mask, as a guide. Afterward, wiring and transistor components are built onto the design.
Complex integrated circuits can have multiple layers of built-in, interconnected components. The data storage and manipulation capabilities of microchips are performed by these built-in transistor components. A simple chip can have as many as 3,000 transistors. The electric current is translated into useable data by sending the current through the circuit in a series of charges.
The charges actually become the language needed to communicate with a receiving device. Boolean logic is the language used to translate electrical currents into useable instructions for a computer. In its simplest form, Boolean logic is a binary code that uses two values–true and false, or “on and off”–to translate electrical current into a useable message.
Types Of Microchips
There are two major types of microchips: Logic chips and Memory chips.
- Logic chips are the ‘brains’ of electronic devices – they process information to complete a task. Among Logic chips, CPUs (central processing units) are the ‘original’ chips, first designed in the 1960s. But there are also processors with specific functionality in mind, such as GPUs (graphical processing units, which are optimized for visual display) and NPUs (neural processing units, designed for deep and machine learning applications).
- Memory chips store information. There are two types of Memory chips: DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory), which are the ‘working memory’ chips that only save data while the device’s power is turned on, and NAND Flash, which saves data even after the device is turned off. For example, DRAM helps to run programs on your device, whereas NAND stores your photos. Whereas DRAM is fast, NAND is slow to read and write data.
Process of Producing Microchips
To produce a microchip requires massive factories that cost billions of dollars and must be retooled every few years as technology advances. The basics of the microchip fabrication process, however, have remained the same for decades—by bombarding the surface of the silicon wafer with atoms of various elements, impurities termed dopants can be introduced into the wafer’s crystalline structure.
These atoms have different properties from the silicon atoms around them and so populate the crystal either with extra electrons or with “holes,” gaps in the crystal’s electron structure that behave almost like positively-charged electrons.
Microscopically precise patterns of p-type (positively-doped, hole-rich) silicon and n-type (negatively-doped, electron-rich) silicon are projected optically onto a light-sensitive chemical coating on the wafer (a photo-resist). Other chemicals etch away the parts of the photo-resist that have not been exposed to the light, leaving a minutely patterned layer.
The surface of the wafer is then bombarded by dopants, which only enter the crystal where it is not protected by the photoresist. Metal wires and new layers of doped silicon can be added by similar processes. Dozens of photoresist, etching and deposition stages are used to build up the three-dimensional structure of a modern microchip.
By crafting appropriately shaped p-type and n-type regions of crystal and covering them with multiple, interleaved layers of SiO2, polycrystalline silicon (silicon comprised of small, jumbled crystals), and metal strips to conduct current from one place to another, a microchip can be endowed with millions or billions of interconnected, microscopic transistors.
Basic Functions Of Microchips
No matter how many circuits you have and how much memory is stored on the chip, a chip basically has three functions, and each of the circuits performs at least one of these functions:
- Perform math operations. Yes, this is addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Of course, some functions are complex versions of these, but still. Some functions can only be performed once a certain math equation is worked out, and the answer determines what is executed.
- Move data from one place to another. Sometimes a piece of data is used and processed more quickly in one part of the device than in another. Like on your smartphone, data pertaining to your camera might be better in an area closer to the camera, while data to execute the phone functions would be more efficiently processed nearer that part of the memory.
- Makes decisions and then moves to a new set of instructions based on the decision made. Remember the flow charts we used to draw up? Those flow charts – with lines and arrows between ovals, rectangles, squares, and the diamond “decision” shape – essentially covered this function. Like, “Is your leftover meal warm enough?” in the diamond shape. “Yes” would point to a rectangle that says “Enjoy your meal.” A “no” line would lead back to the rectangle above the diamond that says “Place your meal in the microwave for a set amount of time and push Start.”
Nanotechnology extends on advances in microelectronics during the last decades of the twentieth century. The miniaturization of electrical components greatly increased the utility and portability of computers, imaging equipment, microphones, etc. Indeed, the production and wide use of now commonplace devices such as personal computers and cell phones were absolutely dependent on advances in microtechnology.
Despite these fundamental advances there remain real physical constraints (e.g., microchip design limitations) to further miniaturization based upon conventional engineering principles. Nanotechnologies intend to revolutionize components and manufacturing techniques to overcome these fundamental limitations. In addition, there are classes of biosensors and feedback control devices that require nanotechnology because—despite advances in microtechnology—present components remain too large or slow.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Microchips aren’t GPS units. As helpful as microchip technology is, it won’t help you locate or track down your dog or cat.
- Microchip registry information is not proof of ownership. While microchips can offer a plethora of information to whoever scans them (information such as spayed/neutered status, species, breed, and more), they do not serve as proof of ownership. Dogs and cats are routinely microchipped by animal shelters, rescue groups, veterinary offices, and other groups. If your pet was microchipped prior to joining your family, it is your responsibility to make sure that all registration information is correct and up to date.
- Microchips have different frequencies. When it comes to picking up the registry information, the type of scanner used matters. 134.2 kHz is the ISO standard (International Standards Organization) that is primarily used worldwide. However, not all scanners are universal, and some may read certain microchips better than others.
- While the microchipping technology is incredible, your pet should always wear a collar with tags on them. All information should be regularly updated, especially after a change in address or phone number. It’s also important to ensure your dog’s collar is equipped with any licenses required in your area (such as rabies).
Potential Of Microchips
Microchips offer countless uses in multiple engineering and technological areas, including physics, science, optics, and biology. Progress made in one area has a progressive effect on the others. One particular field that poses great promise is photonics. Photonics uses the properties of light as a medium for transmitting the information.
The emerging field of optoelectronics combines the quantum effects of light with the magnetic effects of semiconductor materials. Another new and promising field of study is that nanotechnology. Nanotechnology works within the realm of atoms and molecules. It’s a new dimension of manufacturing that looks to create new and improved substances, materials, and processes. With nanotechnology, scientists are working to create viable microchips the size of molecules. If successful, a whole new world of products, and information processing capabilities will emerge.
In conclusion, microchips have transformed much of human society. They are now found in computers, guided missiles, “smart” bombs, satellites for communications or scientific exploration, hand-held communications devices, televisions, aircraft, spacecraft, and motor vehicles. Without microchips, such familiar devices as the personal computer, cell phone, personal digital assistant, calculator, Global Positioning System, and video game would not exist.