Si Wafer | Brief History About Silicon Semiconductors


September 16, 2019

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Semiconductor devices can demonstrate a wide range of useful characteristics, like variable resistance, transfer current easily, and sensitivity to heat and light. A semiconductor’s electrical properties can easily be modified through doping, which is why devices from semiconductors can be used in various applications, like amplification, energy conversion, and switching. One of its major components is a Si wafer.  Semiconductors are widely used today as it was a hundred years ago. Here's a brief history of semiconductors:

The Early Years

From the early years of the semiconductor industry, until the late 1950s, germanium was the preferred semiconductor material for semiconductor devices and transistors, over a Si wafer.  It was during those years that germanium was found to be the most effective semiconductor material, as it showed better performance because of its higher carrier mobility.

  • In 1906, an American engineer named Greenleaf Whittier Packard developed the first-ever silicon semiconductor device- it was a silicon radio crystal detector.
  • In 1940, Russell Ohl learned about the photovoltaic effects in silicon and the p-n junction.
  • In 1941, during WWII, methods for producing high-purity silicon and germanium crystals were developed for radar microwave detectors.
  • In the year 1955, Lincoln Derick and Carl Frosch from Bell Labs, unintentionally discovered that silicon dioxide could be grown on silicon.
  • And in 1958, both suggested that their discovery could cover silicon surfaces during the diffusion process.

Perfecting the Process

It was in the late 1950s when an Egyptian engineer Mohamed Atalla developed the process of surface passivation through thermal oxidation that created a breakthrough in the silicon semiconductor technology. It was Engineer Mohamed Atalla who discovered that the formation of a thermally developed silicon dioxide affected the concentration of electronic states at the silicon surface by reducing it. He also discovered that the formation of silicon dioxide layers can be utilized to electrically stabilize silicon surfaces. In 1957, Atalla's findings were first published in Bell memos.

The 1958 Breakthrough

It was in 1958 that Atalla showcased how high-quality silicon dioxide insulator films can be grown thermally on the surface of the silicon to insulate the silicon p-n junction diodes and transistors underneath. It was Atalla's discovery and his surface passivation process that paved the way for the huge production of silicon semiconductor devices.

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