Of What Materials are Semiconductor Wafers Made?


April 13, 2015

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Many of us have heard of and even seen a wafer of semiconductors, which are basically computer chips that go into a variety of devices – from computers, smartphones and tablets to cars, watches, appliances and even solar panels. A single wafer, depending on the diameter, could hold hundreds of chip, and they have varying uses and purposes depending on the type of device that the chip will be installed. But what all goes into the making of a wafer?The base of a wafer is the mineral, or semiconducting material, which makes up the wafer.

The most common semiconducting material is silicon, though germanium is also used. Silicon is the most plentiful element on Earth and is found primarily in sand. Silicon is called a semiconducting material because it is capable of conducting electric current in certain conditions, but not in others.All of the transistors and integrated circuits are etched on this very thin wafer of silicon and various metals are used to create diodes and other circuit infrastructure on the wafer. Each chip, which is itself a collection of many of these integrated circuits (as many as 180,000 could cover a cross-section of a single human hair!), has its own  layers and sections of circuits and transistors that  have certain, specified roles based on the type of device for which it is being used. Because of these sections and layers, many wafers also have some insulating material (the material varies according to the manufacturer) which essentially blocks off different sections and layers of the chip from each other, absorbing some of the electricity that is generated and keeping it from interfering with other parts of the chip.For example, one section of the chip may process web browsing capability on a smartphone, while another section may allow the user to make a phone call or send a text. Electricity that “jumps” from one section of the chip to the other may impair how the device operates. And with these chips being small and the transistors being even smaller, it can be well-understood that these wafers are manufactured in a highly sterile environment and the wafers get a protective layer on them to keep out dust particles. These circuits are so small that a single dust particle can wreak havoc on the entire chip and keep it from performing at high efficiency.

Silicon chips are very finely tuned pieces of technological machinery that run so many aspects of our lives. Silicon is so pervasive in our electronics that it’ is a good idea to be aware of what we carry around in our pockets and purses and what we use to heat our homes, tell time or send an e-mail.

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