By Dylan Richards
A silicon chip is a semiconductor
a very good conductor of electricity where the
current can be altered, depending on how it’s treated to either conduct or block
the flow of electricity.
At the base of every silicon chip, lies sand. Quartz sand is commonly used
because it contains large quantities of crystallized silicon. Unfortunately, silicon
doesn’t exist in nature as a pure standalone element; it’s usually found in the
form of complex silicate minerals.
Silicon exists in the Earth’s crust as the second most abundant element,
responsible for 28% of the crust’s mass. This, combined with silicon’s unique
semiconductor properties, makes it a good choice for electronic circuit boards.
A pure quartz crystal
Silicon chips are used and manufactured by multinational companies which are
widely recognized around the world.
Such companies include:
AMD (Advanced Micro Devices)
Texas Instruments (TI)
Silicon chips can also be categorized
into their specific use:
Short and long
silicon is placed into a furnace to melt at 1400
C. The furnace is
filled with argon gas to eliminate any traces of air.
The molten silicon is then placed into a crucible and spun rapidly. A small
sized crystal of silicon is inserted, spinning in the opposite direction.
As the silicon is cooled, the crystal is withdrawn at a rate of 1.5mm/min. The
resulting crystal, now called an ingot, weighs 440lb and is 20cm thick. Silicon
is so incredibly strong that it can support this weight on a single thread just
Using chemicals and X
rays, the ingot’s purity and molecular orientation are
checked against standards set by the manufacturer.
The ingot is then fed into a high
ton wire saw and cut into
individual silicon chips which are two
thirds of a millimeter thick and 99.999%
Microscopic marks from cutting are buffered by a process known as lapping
the use of a spinning polisher operating at a high velocity.
The chips still aren’t smooth enough, therefore they’re buffered again, this
time in a chemical process, resulting in silicon wafers with a surface
roughness of less than a millionth of a millimeter.
Next, the circuit design is etched into the chip’s surface. This is done in a
special room where 12,000 tons of air conditioning equipment keeps the air a
thousand times cleaner than that of a hospital operation room; employees
wear special protective gear at all times. This is because a single particle of
dust can kill a silicon chip.
Circuit imprinting is done via photolithography. The wafers’ surfaces are
coated with photosensitive chemicals which harden when exposed to
In very dark rooms, the light is first shown through an image of the circuit
design, then through a miniaturizing lens and onto the coated wafer.
The chemicals are washed off, leaving the design etched into the surface.
This is repeated for up to 40 times, adding up to 40 layers per silicon chip.
Some layers are cooked; some are bathed in molten metals; others are
blasted with ionized plasma
each type of treatment changes the properties
for that specific layer.
Each finished wafer carries up to 1,000 individual microchips and billions of
The wafers are finally cut into the individual chips, packaged and shipped out
to companies which produce computer components, such as Intel.
An Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 laptop processor
A module of
How a Silicon Chip Is Made
Intel Pentium EE CPU
Western Digital hard drive circuitry
Kingston DDR RAM
Broadcom network chip
What Is It?
Intel Core 2 Duo logo
Intel Core i7 logo
Qualcomm Snapdragon logo
NVIDIA GeForce logo
NVIDIA Tegra 3 logo
How Is It Made?
Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 CPU