Silicon wafers have made exponential leaps and bound since their creation in 1960s. To fully understand the value of your silicon wafer supplier, let’s talk about two different types of growth for a second - linear growth and exponential growth. The former happens at a predictable rate. Say you plant an oak tree in your backyard. If you take good care of it, the normal growth rate would be about two feet every year Therefore, you can expect to see a couple of inches every month, that will appear normal. Now let’s say you plant that same tree, but you see it has grown a foot in a week – weird, but ok. Then you look the following week and it’s now four feet tall! At this point, you’d be in shock. But then the following week it’s 12 feet tall, and the next week, 36 feet tall. That is exponential growth. In common terms, a runaway expansion where the growth rate only increases over time. Modern technology has been growing in exponential fashion like that mutant oak tree in your hypothetical backyard. It took us over 100 years to go from the steam engine to the combustion engine. However, in the last 20 years, we’ve gone from portable phones that weighed several pounds and had to be carried in briefcases, to handheld smartphones with substantially more computing power than what was used to get us to the moon in the Apollo 11 mission, 60 years ago. A lot of factors have made this possible – breakthroughs in technology that propel us forward happen all the time these days. But one of the unsung heroes of technological progress has been the tiny silicon wafer. These tiny wafers have allowed the tech to get smaller and more efficient. Just how did this happen? What was the role of silicon wafer suppliers in the breakneck speed of change? Wafer World is here to take a deeper look at the role of silicon wafers in our fast-changing world.
In 1824, an accomplished chemist named Jöns Jacob Berzelius was running an experiment in which, he heated chips of potassium in a silica container. After washing away the by-product, he discovered that the chemical reaction had separated a substance from the silica container. This by-product would be named silicon, a name derived from the Latin word for flint.
After its initial discovery, it would be almost one hundred years before anyone figured out a beneficial use for silicon. In the early 20th century, silicon was being used to make resins. Computers were still just abstract dreams of science fiction writers and ‘microchips’ and ‘integrated circuits’ sounded more like mysterious spells to the average person than a key piece of technology. Of course, this was only until a physicist discovered how effective silicon could be as a semiconductor.
The conductive potential of silicon was truly explored for the first time by a physicist named Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose. In 1906, he discovered that silicon was much more effective at transmitting signals in radio crystal detectors than galena. (Galena is a natural mineral commonly used for its conductive qualities) This would be the first step future physicists built upon to create the modern silicon wafer.
Before silicon wafer suppliers made their mark in the world of tech, germanium was the dominant material used to make semiconductors. The reason being, up to the late 1950s, germanium was demonstrated to most effectively transfer electrons between circuits. That changed when an Egyptian engineer named Mohamed Atalla overcame the final barrier that kept silicon from becoming the premier semiconductor material. Basically, silicon has an unstable surface that prevents the smooth transfer of electrons that is necessary to create effective semiconductors. However, Atalla was able to create a method of forming a layer of silicon dioxide atop the silicon component. This layer managed to stabilize the surface of silicon and facilitate the transfer of electrons. Ultimately, this dethroned germanium and paved the way for the future silicon wafer supplier.
Silicon has a lot of properties that make it an attractive option for semiconductor manufacturing. For starters, silicon is the seventh most abundant element in the entire universe and the second most abundant on the planet. Secondly, silicon in its pure form is a natural semiconductor, meaning it possesses properties of both metals and insulators. This combination of factors makes the manufacturing process very cost-efficient for silicon wafer suppliers. After Atalla’s breakthrough, the beginning of the information age, and the properties of silicon, the stage was set. By the time the 1960s were in full swing, U.S. companies were the premier manufacturers and suppliers of silicon wafers all over the world. As technology improved, so did the manufacturing methods and silicon wafers were at the forefront of making technology smaller and more efficient.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of silicon in the modern world. Silicon wafers are used everywhere – from computer chips to phones, to microwaves, and even solar panels. These valuable semiconductors have been so pivotal in the exponential growth of technology, that the center of the tech world now carries the name Silicon Valley. So, what comes next for silicon wafer suppliers? It’s hard to tell. Silicon has helped propel technology forward in unprecedented fashion. The modern technological age might’ve been impossible without the workhorse that is silicon. Some experts theorize that we are on the verge of a new information age. An age in which quantum computing will unlock the next generation of technological advancements. But whatever comes next, whether it involves using silicon or compound semiconductors that unlock the capacities of cold computing, one thing is certain – the new era will be built upon the tech world that silicon wafer suppliers helped create.
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