Microchips, also termed "integrated circuits" or "chips," aresmall, thin rectangles of acrystallinesemiconductor,usually silicon, that have beeninlaidand overlaid withmicroscopically patterned substances so as to producetransistors and other electronic components on its surface.It is the components on the chip, not the chip itself, that aremicro or too small see with the naked eye. The microchiphas made it possible to miniaturize digital computers,communications circuits, controllers, and many other devices. Since 1971, whole computer CPUs (central processing units) have been placed on some microchips;these devices are termed microprocessors.Manufacture of a microchip begins with the growing of a pure, single crystal of silicon or other semiconductingelement. A semiconductor is a substance whose resistanceto electrical current is between that of a conductive metaland that of aninsulating materialsuch as glass (silicondioxide, SiO
). This large, single crystal is then sawed intothin, disc-shaped wafers 4–12 inches (10–30 cm) acrossand only .01–.024 inches (.025–.06 cm) thick. One side of eachwafer is polished to high precision, then processed to produce on it a number of identical microchips. These arecut apart later, placed in tiny protective boxes or packages,and connected electrically to the outside world by metal pins protrudingfrom the packages.Producing a microchip requires industrial facilities that cost billions of dollars and must be retooled every few years astechnology advances. The basics of the microchipfabrication process, however, remain the same: by
bombarding the surface of the wafer with atoms of variouselements, impurities or "dopants" can be introduced into itscrystalline structure. These atoms have different electron- binding properties from the silicon atoms around them andso populate the crystal either with extra electrons or withholes, gaps that behavemuch like positively chargedelectrons. Holes and extra electrons confer specificelectrical properties on the regions of the crystal where theyreside. By arranging the doped regions containing holes or extra electrons and covering them with multiple,interleaved layers of SiO
, polycrystallinesilicon (siliconcomprised of small, jumbled crystals), and metal strips toconduct current from one place to another, each microchipcan be endowed with thousands or millions of microscopicdevices. Such chips are termed integrated because theelectronic components in them are integral parts of a single,solid object; this both decreases their size and increasestheir reliability.The microchip was conceived simultaneously in 1958 byU.S. engineers Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce (1927–1990).In 1962, microchips were used in the guidance computer of the U.S. Minuteman missile (a nuclear-tippedintercontinental ballistic missile based in holes or silos inthe American Midwest); the U.S. government also fundedearly microchip mass-production facilities as part of itsApollo program, for which it requires lightweight digitalcomputers. The Apollo command and lunar modules eachhad microchip-based computers with 32-kilobytememories.
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electronic equipment consisting of a small crystal of a silicon semiconductor fabricated to carry out a number of electronic functions in an integrated circuit.