Chip art, also known as silicon art, chip graffiti or silicon doodling, refers to microscopic artwork built into integrated circuits, also called chips or ICs. Since ICs are printed by photolithography, not constructed a component at a time, there is no additional cost to include features in otherwise unused space on the chip. Designers have used this freedom to put all sorts of artwork on the chips themselves, from designers' simple initials to rather complex drawings. Given the small size of chips, these figures cannot be seen without a microscope. Chip graffiti is sometimes called the hardware version of software easter eggs.
Photolithography, also termed optical lithography or UV lithography, is a process used in microfabrication to pattern parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photomask to a light-sensitive chemical "photoresist", or simply "resist," on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then either engraves the exposure pattern into the material or enables deposition of a new material in the desired pattern upon the material underneath the photo resist. For example, in complex integrated circuits, a modern CMOS wafer will go through the photolithographic cycle up to 50 times.
A microscope is an instrument used to see objects that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Microscopy is the science of investigating small objects and structures using such an instrument. Microscopic means invisible to the eye unless aided by a microscope.
In computer software and media, an Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature of a work. It is usually found in a computer program, video game, or DVD/Blu-ray Disc menu screen. The name is used to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt. The term was coined to describe a hidden message in the Atari video game Adventure that encouraged the player to find further hidden messages in later games, leading them on a 'hunt'.
Prior to 1984, these doodles also served a practical purpose. If a competitor produced a similar chip, and examination showed it contained the same doodles, then this was strong evidence that the design was copied (a copyright violation) and not independently derived. A 1984 revision of the US copyright law (the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984) made all chip masks automatically copyrighted, with exclusive rights to the creator, and similar rules apply in most other countries that manufacture ICs. Since an exact copy is now automatically a copyright violation, the doodles serve no useful purpose.
Copyright is a legal right, existing in many countries, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. This is usually only for a limited time. Copyright is one of two types of intellectual property rights, the other is industrial property rights. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. A major limitation on copyright on ideas is that copyright protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves.
The Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 is an act of the US Congress that makes the layouts of integrated circuits legally protected upon registration, and hence illegal to copy without permission. It is an integrated circuit layout design protection law.
Integrated Circuits are constructed from multiple layers of material, typically silicon, silicon dioxide (glass), and aluminum. The composition and thickness of these layers give them their distinctive color and appearance. These elements created an irresistible palette for IC design and layout engineers.
Silicon is a chemical element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre; and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is a member of group 14 in the periodic table: carbon is above it; and germanium, tin, and lead are below it. It is relatively unreactive. Because of its high chemical affinity for oxygen, it was not until 1823 that Jöns Jakob Berzelius was first able to prepare it and characterize it in pure form. Its melting and boiling points of 1414 °C and 3265 °C respectively are the second-highest among all the metalloids and nonmetals, being only surpassed by boron. Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth's crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. More than 90% of the Earth's crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen.
Silicon dioxide, also known as silica, silicic acid or silicic acid anydride is an oxide of silicon with the chemical formula SiO2, most commonly found in nature as quartz and in various living organisms. In many parts of the world, silica is the major constituent of sand. Silica is one of the most complex and most abundant families of materials, existing as a compound of several minerals and as synthetic product. Notable examples include fused quartz, fumed silica, silica gel, and aerogels. It is used in structural materials, microelectronics (as an electrical insulator), and as components in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Glass is a non-crystalline, amorphous solid that is often transparent and has widespread practical, technological, and decorative uses in, for example, window panes, tableware, and optoelectronics. The most familiar, and historically the oldest, types of manufactured glass are "silicate glasses" based on the chemical compound silica (silicon dioxide, or quartz), the primary constituent of sand. The term glass, in popular usage, is often used to refer only to this type of material, which is familiar from use as window glass and in glass bottles. Of the many silica-based glasses that exist, ordinary glazing and container glass is formed from a specific type called soda-lime glass, composed of approximately 75% silicon dioxide (SiO2), sodium oxide (Na2O) from sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), calcium oxide (CaO), also called lime, and several minor additives.
The creative process involved in the design of these chips, a strong sense of pride in their work, and an artistic temperament combined compels people to want to mark their work as their own. It is very common to find initials, or groups of initials on chips. This is the design engineer's way of "signing" his or her work.
Often this creative artist's instinct extends to the inclusion of small pictures or icons. These may be images of significance to the designers, comments related to the chip's function, inside jokes, or even satirical references. Because of the difficulty in verifying their existence, chip art has also been the subject of online hoaxes (e.g. the never-seen "bill sux" comment on a Pentium chip—the reputed "photo" showing the inscription is a hoax ).
William Henry Gates III is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian. He is best known as the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, while also being the largest individual shareholder until May 2014.
The mass production of these works of art as parasites on the body of a commercial IC goes unnoticed by most observers and is discouraged by semiconductor corporations, primarily from the fear that the presence of the artwork (which is clearly unneeded) will interfere with some necessary function in the chip or design flow.
Some laboratories have started collaborating with artists or directly producing books and exhibits with the micrographs of these chips. Such is the case of Harvard chemist George Whitesides, who collaborated with pioneer photographer Felice Frankel to publish On the Surface of Things, a highly praised photography book on experiments from (mostly) the Whitesides lab. Also, the laboratory of Albert Folch (who, perhaps not coincidentally, works in BioMEMS, the same field as George Whitesides) at the University of Washington's Bioengineering Dept. has a highly popular online gallery with more than 1,700 free BioMEMS-related chip art micrographs and has already produced three art exhibits in the Seattle area, with online sales.
George McClelland Whitesides is an American chemist and professor of chemistry at Harvard University. He is best known for his work in the areas of NMR spectroscopy, organometallic chemistry, molecular self-assembly, soft lithography, microfabrication, microfluidics, and nanotechnology. A prolific author and patent holder who has received many awards, he received the highest Hirsch index rating of all living chemists in 2011.
Felice Frankel is a photographer of scientific images renowned for the aesthetic quality of her science photographs and her ability to communicate complex scientific information in images.
Albert Folch Folch is a Catalan scientist, writer, and artist. He is currently a professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington who is known for his research into Microfluidics and BioMEMS as well as his works of scientific art.
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper, and faster than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment 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 small size and low cost of ICs.
Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.
In electronics design, tape-out or tapeout is the final result of the design process for integrated circuits or printed circuit boards before they are sent for manufacturing. The tapeout is specifically the point at which the graphic for the photomask of the circuit is sent to the fabrication facility. A synonym used at IBM is RIT. IBM differentiates between RIT-A for the non-metallic structures and RIT-B for the metal layers.
Very-large-scale integration (VLSI) is the process of creating an integrated circuit (IC) by combining hundreds of thousands of transistors or devices into a single chip. VLSI began in the 1970s when complex semiconductor and communication technologies were being developed. The microprocessor is a VLSI device. Before the introduction of VLSI technology most ICs had a limited set of functions they could perform. An electronic circuit might consist of a CPU, ROM, RAM and other glue logic. VLSI lets IC designers add all of these into one chip.
An EPROM, or erasable programmable read-only memory, is a type of memory chip that retains its data when its power supply is switched off. Computer memory that can retrieve stored data after a power supply has been turned off and back on is called non-volatile. It is an array of floating-gate transistors individually programmed by an electronic device that supplies higher voltages than those normally used in digital circuits. Once programmed, an EPROM can be erased by exposing it to strong ultraviolet light source. EPROMs are easily recognizable by the transparent fused quartz window in the top of the package, through which the silicon chip is visible, and which permits exposure to ultraviolet light during erasing.
SiGe, or silicon-germanium, is an alloy with any molar ratio of silicon and germanium, i.e. with a molecular formula of the form Si1−xGex. It is commonly used as a semiconductor material in integrated circuits (ICs) for heterojunction bipolar transistors or as a strain-inducing layer for CMOS transistors. IBM introduced the technology into mainstream manufacturing in 1989. This relatively new technology offers opportunities in mixed-signal circuit and analog circuit IC design and manufacture. SiGe is also used as a thermoelectric material for high temperature applications.
Fabless manufacturing is the design and sale of hardware devices and semiconductor chips while outsourcing the fabrication of the devices to a specialized manufacturer called a semiconductor foundry. Foundries are typically, but not exclusively, located in mainland China and Taiwan because of the generally low cost of labor. Thus, fabless companies can benefit from lower capital costs while concentrating their research and development resources on the end market.
Signetics was an American electronics manufacturer specifically established to make integrated circuits. Founded in 1961, they went on to develop a number of early microprocessors and support chips, as well as the widely used 555 timer chip. They were bought by Philips in 1975 and incorporated in Philips Semiconductors.
In electronics engineering, a design rule is a geometric constraint imposed on circuit board, semiconductor device, and integrated circuit (IC) designers to ensure their designs function properly, reliably, and can be produced with acceptable yield. Design rules for production are developed by process engineers based on the capability of their processes to realize design intent. Electronic design automation is used extensively to ensure that designers do not violate design rules; a process called design rule checking (DRC). DRC is a major step during physical verification signoff on the design, which also involves LVS checks, XOR checks, ERC, and antenna checks. The importance of design rules and DRC is greatest for ICs, which have micro- or nano-scale geometries; for advanced processes, some fabs also insist upon the use of more restricted rules to improve yield.
A hybrid integrated circuit (HIC), hybrid microcircuit, hybrid circuit or simply hybrid is a miniaturized electronic circuit constructed of individual devices, such as semiconductor devices and passive components, bonded to a substrate or printed circuit board (PCB). A PCB having components on a Printed Wiring Board (PWB) is not considered a hybrid circuit according to the definition of MIL-PRF-38534.
Integrated circuit design, or IC design, is a subset of electronics engineering, encompassing the particular logic and circuit design techniques required to design integrated circuits, or ICs. ICs consist of miniaturized electronic components built into an electrical network on a monolithic semiconductor substrate by photolithography.
John Haslett Hall was a pioneer in the development of low power CMOS integrated circuits. Hall was a pioneering semiconductor process and device design expert. He founded or co-founded multiple innovative Silicon Valley companies, including Intersil, MicroPower Systems, Linear Integrated Systems, Inc., and Integrated Wave Technologies, Inc.
In electronic engineering, a through-silicon via (TSV) or through-chip via is a vertical electrical connection (via) that passes completely through a silicon wafer or die. TSVs are high performance interconnect techniques used as an alternative to wire-bond and flip chips to create 3D packages and 3D integrated circuits. Compared to alternatives such as package-on-package, the interconnect and device density is substantially higher, and the length of the connections becomes shorter.
An interposer is an electrical interface routing between one socket or connection to another. The purpose of an interposer is to spread a connection to a wider pitch or to reroute a connection to a different connection.
In microelectronics, a three-dimensional integrated circuit is an integrated circuit manufactured by stacking silicon wafers or dies and interconnecting them vertically using, for instance, through-silicon vias (TSVs) or Cu-Cu connections, so that they behave as a single device to achieve performance improvements at reduced power and smaller footprint than conventional two dimensional processes. 3D IC is just one of a host of 3D integration schemes that exploit the z-direction to achieve electrical performance benefits.
Layout designs (topographies) of integrated circuits are a field in the protection of intellectual property.
Global Silicon Limited is a fabless semiconductor company founded in 1997 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Global Silicon designed and produced system level semiconductors for the consumer audio market. Global Silicon created a number of new ICs that were noteworthy for the level of system integration that was achieved. Initial products focused on solutions for CD players, later expanding to also include MP3 and WMA compressed formats. Global Silicon's DART IC was used in the CD/MP3 Boombox and a subsequent IC (Xin) was used in a number of consumer products including the CD/MP3/WMA boombox. Global Silicon created a number of patents to cover the new technology that had been created. Global Silicon did not achieve commercial success, the investors decided to close the company in 2006 citing lack of sales traction. In 2007, the CTO of Global Silicon purchased the company's intellectual property, stock and assets including a HK subsidiarity and has been operating the company from Hong Kong since. Currently Global Silicon is a consulting company and consumer audio design house.
The idea of integrating electronic circuits into a single device was born when the German physicist and engineer Werner Jacobi developed and patented the first known integrated transistor amplifier in 1949 and the British radio engineer Geoffrey Dummer proposed to integrate a variety of standard electronic components in a monolithic semiconductor crystal in 1952. A year later, Harwick Johnson filed a patent for a prototype integrated circuit (IC).
In integrated circuits (ICs), interconnects are structures that connect two or more circuit elements together electrically. The design and layout of interconnects on an IC is vital to its proper function, performance, power efficiency, reliability, and fabrication yield. The material interconnects are made from depends on many factors. Chemical and mechanical compatibility with the semiconductor substrate, and the dielectric in between the levels of interconnect is necessary, otherwise barrier layers are needed. Suitability for fabrication is also required; some chemistries and processes prevent integration of materials and unit processes into a larger technology (recipe) for IC fabrication. In fabrication, interconnects are formed during the back-end-of-line after the fabrication of the transistors on the substrate.