Reference STATE OF THE ART Stan Augarten

ISBN 0-89919-195-9

Photo of
The Microelectronic Revolution Begins
The First IC


Before the invention of the IC, electronic equipment was composed of discrete components like transistors, which serve as both switches and amplifiers; resistors, which impede the flow of electrons; and capacitors, which store them. These components, often simply called discretes, were manufactured separately and were wired or soldered together onto masonite-like circuit boards. Discretes took up a lot of room and were expensive and cumbersome to assemble, so engineers began, in the mid-1950s, to search for a simpler approach.

  One of the most interesting developments was a manufacturing method adopted by the United States Army. Known as the micromodule system, it called for piling tiny wafers of discretes on top of each other like dishes. Connecting wires ran up the sides of the stacks through holes in the wafers. Micromodules were not only somewhat easier to make than conventional electronic systems, they were also a good deal smaller: a six-component module was about the size of the sharpened cone of a pencil.

  In the summer of 1958, a young engineer by the name of Jack S. Kilby went to work for Texas Instruments, which by then had earned a reputation for itself as an innovative manufacturer of transistors. Kilby was slated to work on TI's micromodule program, but the army's system seemed to him to be unnecessarily complicated. He wondered whether it would be possible, instead of stacking discretes on top of each other, to fabricate all the electronic components - transistors, resistors, and the like - out of the same piece of material. It occurred to him that a properly engineered slice of germanium might be made to act as a whole slew of components, much as a tapestry can be embroidered with any number of designs and colors.

  Kilby's first prototype was a phase-shift oscillator, a simple circuit that converts direct current into alternating current. However, instead of being made out of discretes wired together on a circuit board, his design was fashioned out of a thin wafer of germanium attached with wax to four electrical contacts. The circuit incorporated, all within the same chunk of germanium, a transistor, a capacitor, and the equivalent of three resistors (the germanium functioned as its own so-called bulk resistor). Although the development of the IC soon followed a different course, Kilby's creation was the first bona fide IC.

The first IC was made out of a thin slice of germanium (the light blue rectangle) and contained a single bipolar transistor (under the large aluminum bar in the center). It had four input/output terminals (the small vertical aluminum bars), a ground (the large bar on the far right), and wires of gold. The assemblage was held together with was. The photo's blue tinge was created by a light shown on the chip. Actual size: 0.040 x 0.062 inches. Photo of


©Copyright Stan Augarten
This book is provided for general reference. The National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution make no claims as to the accuracy or completeness of this work.

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