integrated circuit

a circuit of the logical main board of a hard drive

Integrated circuit – In electronics, an integrated circuit (also known as IC, microcircuit, microchip, silicon chip, or chip) is a miniaturized electronic circuit (consisting mainly of semiconductor devices, as well as passive components) that has been manufactured in the surface of a thin substrate of semiconductor material. Integrated circuits are used in almost all electronic equipment in use today and have revolutionized the world of electronics.

Integrated Circuits – As with many inventions, two people had the idea for an integrated circuit at almost the same time. Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, working independently 2000 miles apart, both had this great idea.

Gallium – a chemical element with symbol Ga and atomic number 31. From its discovery in 1875 until the semiconductor era, gallium was used primarily as an agent to make low-melting alloys. Today, almost all gallium is used for microelectronics. Gallium arsenide, the primary use of gallium, is used in microwave circuitry and infrared applications. Gallium nitride and indium gallium nitride, minority semiconductor uses, produce blue and violet light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and diode lasers.


  • Clean rooms – maintained virtually free of contaminants, such as dust or bacteria, are used in laboratory work and in the production of precision parts for electronic or aerospace equipment. In the clean room standard ISO 14644-1 “Classification of Air Cleanliness” the classes are based on maximum permitted number of particles per cubic meter equal to or greater than the specified particle size in micrometers

What’s the problem?

In the 1980’s programmable integrated circuits were developed. These devices contain circuits whose logical function and connectivity can be programmed by the user, rather than being fixed by the integrated circuit manufacturer. This allows a single chip to be programmed to implement different LSI-type functions such as logic gates, adders, and registers. Current devices named FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) can now implement tens of thousands of LSI circuits in parallel and operate up to 550 MHz.

  • Ask – Creating an integrated circuits take time and money. Originally, each IC was designed for one specific purpose. But there were so many uses for the technology, how could a general purpose IC be customized after it was manufactured?
  • Imagine – Computers were programmable. How could ICs be designed so that they could be programmed?
  • Plan, Create – Manufacturing millions of general purpose programmable IC was much cheaper. What features were required to provide flexibility to increase the usefulness for a particular programmable IC design? How could these be used in new ways in more products?
  • Improve – As more circuits are grouped into a single unit, there are more ways to use these programmable integrated circuits.
Silicon chip 3d

That’s engineering

  • fabrication – The layers of material are fabricated much like a photographic process. Photons of higher frequencies (typically ultraviolet) are used to create the patterns for each layer. Because each feature is so small, electron microscopes are essential tools for a process engineer who might be debugging a fabrication process.
  • transistor – an electronic component that can be used as an amplifier, or as a switch. They are found in most electronic devices. Most are inside integrated circuits.

Engineering ideas

  • microprocessor, silicon, circuit, logic gate, programmable, parallel, Mhz, ultraviolet, photon, process, debug, fabrication, electron microscope

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • Build a Bubble Circuit – Make a bubble maze that allows bubbles to move through a series of “on” and “off” switches.
  • Play the Nobel Prize Techville game
  • Find some examples of types of integrated circuits, and the uses for each
  • Find electronics products that include integrated circuits

Learn more…

  • Flexible chips (video 3:05) – Electronic memory chips may soon gain the ability to bend and twist as a result of work by engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
  • molecule-sized diode – Buckyballs and diamondoids combined to create molecule-sized diode. Scientists have created a molecule-sized electronic component – a diode – just a few nanometers long, that may one day help replace much bulkier diodes and other semiconductors found on today’s integrated circuits to produce incredibly compact, super-fast electronic devices.
  • Integrated Circuits – As with many inventions, two people had the idea for an integrated circuit at almost the same time.
  • Integrated circuit are used in virtually all electronic equipment today and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the low cost of producing integrated circuits.