How semiconductors are made: humble mineral silicon, changing the world!

Beijing time on December 23 news, according to foreign media reports, when it comes to the technology of connecting the world, semiconductor chips play a great role. But how does this little chip come into our lives? < / P > < p > from nighttowns to remote villages, a technology is changing the way we live and work. From smart phones in your pocket to huge data centers that support the operation of the Internet, from electric scooters to supersonic airplanes, from pacemakers to supercomputers that predict the weather, invisible or unknown, all of these devices or facilities contain a tiny technology that makes it possible: semiconductors. < / P > < p > semiconductor is the basic component of modern computing. Semiconductor devices, called transistors, are tiny electronic switches that run calculations inside a computer. In 1947, American scientists built the world’s first transistor. Before that, people completed the computer system with the help of vacuum tube. But vacuum tube computers are slow and cumbersome. Until the application of silicon, it changed everything. < / P > < p > transistors made of silicon are small enough to be mounted on microchips, opening the door to a new world: an endless stream of devices. Every year, these devices are getting smaller and smarter. “The ability to miniaturize transistors allows us to do things that no one has ever imagined,” said John nover, chief executive of the semiconductor industry association. And all this is because we can put a large computer on a small chip. ” < / P > < p > the pace of innovation is unprecedented. The chip began to get smaller and smaller at a steady rate, as if the technology had a pattern to follow. About 50 years ago, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, a chip manufacturing giant, first proposed this law, later known as Moore’s law. Moore’s law predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. It has been proved that Moore’s law was once correct. Until recently, things began to change. The pace of chip miniaturization slowed down when the efforts to reduce transistors again and again approached the physical limit. The early transistors were visible to the naked eye. Today, a microchip can hold billions of micro transistors. Most importantly, this exponential progress in manufacturing has driven the digital revolution. < / P > < p > however, silicon, the core element of this great revolution, has always been an extremely inconspicuous substance, and one of the most common substances on earth. 90% of the minerals in the earth’s crust contain silicon. One of the most common substances on earth has brought a technology all over the world, which is really interesting. < / P > < p > silicon is the foundation of the $500 billion chip industry. And the industry has driven the development of global science and technology economy. Today, the global technology economy is worth about $3 trillion. The semiconductor industry has also become one of the most global industries in history: raw materials come from Japan and Mexico, and chips are made in the United States and China. The chips are then shipped around the world for installation on devices. Finally, the equipment came to people in all countries of the world. < / P > < p > nover said: “as the foundation of the chip, silicon will probably circulate around the world two or three times.” But even with such a huge global network, we can trace back to a few important places. < / P > < p > high end electronic products also have high requirements for material quality. The purest silicon comes from quartzite, and the purest quartzite comes from a quarry near spruce pine, North Carolina. Millions of digital devices around the world – even your mobile phone or laptop on your desk – are connected to this small town in North Carolina. “It’s really incredible to think that you can see quartz from spruce pine on almost every chip in your mobile phone and computer,” said rove & middot; peabert, a mining experience at quartz Corp, a high-quality quartz supplier < / P > < p > the rocks near spruce pine are very special. The content of silica in this area is high, but the impurity is low. People have been mining precious stones and mica here for centuries. But once upon a time, no one paid attention to the quartz excavated. After the rise of semiconductor industry in 1980s, quartz changed into white gold. < / P > < p > now, the price per ton of quartz is as high as $10000. Spruce Payne’s mining industry generates $300 million a year. Rocks extracted from the ground with machines and explosives are put into crushers to produce quartz gravel. Subsequently, the quartz gravel is sent to the processing plant and ground into fine sand. Finally, water and chemicals are added to the fine sand to separate silicon from other minerals. The extracted silicon has to go through the final grinding process before it can be bagged in the form of powder and sent to the refinery. < / P > < p > although there are billions of microchips in the world, only about 30000 tons of silicon is mined every year, even less than the hourly construction sand produced in the United States. “Spruce Payne has a very large silicon reserve,” peabert said. It can be mined for decades. Maybe, before we run out of quartz, the whole industry has changed. ” < p > < p > to turn silicon powder into chips, silicon materials need to be melted in a 1400 ℃ high temperature furnace and made into cylindrical crystal rods. Then, like a cucumber, cut the bar into thin slices to get the wafer. Finally, in the factory, a dozen rectangular circuits – the chip itself – are printed on each wafer. From here on, the chips will spread to every corner of the world. < / P > < p > Chris & middot; Belfield, aseptic room Engineer at global foundries, said: “we’re really a printing press, printing any electronic device they want to make for the company.” < / P > < p > because the chip is very small, any dust particles or hair can damage the complex circuit of the chip. In order to prevent pollution of microelectronic products, the whole workshop must be sterile and dust-free. About the size of six football fields, the area is thousands of times cleaner than the operating room, and is illuminated with dim yellow light to prevent ultraviolet radiation from damaging some of the chemicals used in the production process. Laboratory staff and engineering and technical personnel wear weird protective clothing, wrapped in white safety clothing from head to toe, and wear masks and goggles before they start to work. < / P > < p > in a sterile room, most operations are performed automatically by vacuum sealed robots. A single track suspended from the roof carries parts between robots. Depending on the design, each chip may take 1000 to 2000 steps to make. < / P > < p > the cost of each blank wafer flowing into the factory floor is about several hundred dollars. Coming out of the workshop, these wafers will be printed with billions of transistors. At this time, their value will be more than 100 times of the original. Most of the chips made by global foundries are used in smartphones or hardware called GPUs. GPU is used in video games, artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency mining. < / P > < p > Internet devices, from fitness trackers to intelligent refrigerators and speakers, also known as the “Internet of things”, are another emerging series of terminal devices. “People want to connect more and more things all the time,” belfi said < / P > < p > in the next phase, these manufactured wafers will be sent to electronics manufacturers usually located overseas. “I’m very proud to be able to contribute to the connectivity of people around the world.” “Every time I look at the electronic devices we use every day, I think about the technologies we’re working on,” said Isabel & middot; freen, the central engineering director at global foundries < / P > < p > semiconductors are the fourth largest export commodity of the United States, second only to aircraft, automobiles and oil. Most of the revenue is used to develop new products, making the semiconductor industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, a top research industry. “We’re changing the industry, and this industry is going to change the world,” said Frayn < / P > < p > as semiconductors become smaller and cheaper, almost everyone can use them now. It is estimated that more than 5 billion people in the world have mobile devices, more than half of which are smartphones. Developing countries are catching up. < / P > < p > research ICT Africa is a think tank focusing on technology policy. According to the survey of the think tank, in Africa, in 2007, the proportion of people aged 15 and above using the Internet was 15%; ten years later, in 2017, the number increased to 28%. Today, about two out of ten Africans have smartphones. “This is mainly due to the rapid spread of cheap internet devices,” said enri van der middot spiy of research ICT Africa < / P > < p > this means that even in most remote rural areas, people can feel the impact of these technologies. Nanuki is a market town in Kenya, an East African country. Take Douglas & middot; wangala, a small town farmer, who now uses his smartphone to find buyers of crops. “Mobile phones make my job easier,” he said < / P > < p > beside their house, there is a river. Wangala and his wife Gladys make a living growing corn and potatoes in a field near the river. Before he had a smartphone, wangala’s only way to sell his produce was to take it to the market. If it cannot be sold, the agricultural products will go bad and he will lose money. Mobile technology can help him address this risk. By sharing his crop photos with potential buyers, he can make a deal before corn or potatoes mature. When harvest time comes, buyers will come and take the produce away by themselves, instead of waiting for wangala to transport the produce to the market. In this way, buyers can harvest fresh agricultural products. Wangala said it was difficult for him to sell his crops until he had a smartphone. < / P > < p > wangala bought herself a mobile phone as a business investment for about 15000 Kenyan shillings. In addition to contacting buyers, he also uses his mobile phone to keep track of information vital to running the farm, such as the latest weather forecast and market prices of different crops. According to the research conducted by Fiona & middot; Van & middot; de & middot; Bogert of weather impact, a global climate organization, better access to such information is an effective way to ensure long-term food security in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. Obtaining accurate weather information can help farmers determine what and when to plant a farmer. < / P > < p > however, wangala needs to go to a nearby WiFi hotspot to get mobile data. The WiFi hotspot is in a modified container. Outside the city, hot spots like this are the lifeblood of local communities. In many countries, there is still a large gap in the level of Internet access between urban and rural areas. But the research done by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany shows that the development path of sub Saharan Africa is gratifying, and farmers in Kenya are actively taking advantage of it