In simple terms, semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value that falls somewhere between a conductor (such as copper) and an insulator.
This resistance falls as its temperature rises, making them ideal components of electronic devices such as transistors, diodes and integrated circuits. These are all key components of the electronic and handheld devices that we love today, and in this respect, semiconductors have revolutionized the world in which we live.
In this post, we’ll explore this impact further, whilst asking what’s next in the development of semiconductors.
Then and Now – How Have Semiconductors Changed Our World?
The emergence of the semiconductor can be traced back to 1946 when the world’s first digital computer (known as the ENIAC) was built. This behemoth weighed a staggering 30 tons, whilst it boasted more than 100,000 components and consumed 200kw of power when in use.
One of the main issues here was the use of vacuum tubes, which consumed a great deal of power within the device and would fail regularly, leaving the computer needs servicing every few days on average.
The research found that transistors reduced the power required to run the computer’s electronic circuits, but the problem with this solution is that the circuit in question needed multiple transistors, resistors, and capacitors that would have to be connected using soldered wires.
At this stage, electrical engineer Jack Kilby found that these components could be combined on a single block of semiconductor material, negating the need for excess wires and multiple connections.
As a result of this, the world’s first integrated circuit was born, with this now commonly referred to as a semiconductor chip that is largely considered responsible for the introduction of the digital age.
The Future for Integrated Circuits and Semiconductor Chips
There’s no doubt that this innovation has changed the world considerably, whilst it has shaped the digital age by empowering the innovation of seminal technology products such as iPhones, smartphones, tablets, and personal computers.
In this respect, the semiconductor chip has also created millions of jobs across multiple industries, and this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The question that remains, of course, is whether semiconductor technology can evolve much further than it already has, particularly in terms of its capacity and integration in contemporary devices. In fact, it has been argued that a physical barrier has now been reached, and beyond this progress may not be accessible.
However, nanotechnology has the potential to breach this barrier, by leveraging nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes to provide smaller semiconductor chips with a wider range of potential applications.