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The humble mineral
that transformed the world

Original Article

Posted By: StormCnter, 11/16/2019 10:36:48 AM

From cities that never sleep to remote rural villages, one technology is changing how we live and work. From the smartphones in our pockets to the vast datacentres powering the internet, from electric scooters to hypersonic aircraft, pacemakers to weather-predicting supercomputers – inside every one of them, unseen and unsung, are tiny pieces of tech that make it all possible: semiconductors. These are the basic building blocks of modern computation. Semiconductor devices called transistors are the tiny electronic switches that run computations inside our computers. Scientists in the US built the first silicon transistor in 1947. Before that, the mechanics of computing had been performed by vacuum tubes,

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Reply 1 - Posted by: mc squared 11/16/2019 11:07:01 AM (No. 236673)
Not a word about the Bell Laboratories which first discovered the properties of the silicon 'device'. And right here in New Jersey.
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Reply 2 - Posted by: Baskerville 11/16/2019 11:09:45 AM (No. 236675)
Years ago a precocious young friend wanted to write a science fiction story about the world having a silicon shortage. I had to remind him that silicon is one of the most abundant minerals on the Earth. We all had a good laugh.
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Reply 3 - Posted by: DVC 11/16/2019 11:40:18 AM (No. 236697)
I thought the article would be about coal. THAT is a mineral which truly transformed the world. Sad that almost none of today's kids will not know the amazement of taking a sawed 1/2" diameter slab of germanium and touching it with a metal "whisker" on a post, connected to a coil of wire wrapped on an oatmeal cardboard tubular 'box', and run out to a wire hung to the clothesline, and then connecting a tiny earpiece and hearing RADIO. No batteries, just some pieces of stuff thumbtacked to a piece of wood. I thought of this because of the image of the lab transistor in the story, much like a '50s toy 'crystal' radio. Later models used a tiny 1/16" diameter glass diode to replace the chunk of germanium and the whisker, but were equally simple, child-built and amazing. And yes, silicon devices have changed many things. But looking at all the zombie children with their mind-sucking 'smart phones' makes me really wonder if it was a good thing.
8 people like this.

Reply 4 - Posted by: EmilioCavaradosi 11/16/2019 11:41:37 AM (No. 236699)
mc squared—Yes, but that was Germanium. Silicon transistors arose later, in the 1950s. They are less heat sensitive than the original Germanium ones used by the Bell Labs team.
5 people like this.

Reply 5 - Posted by: Rumblehog 11/16/2019 12:52:00 PM (No. 236758)
The world doesn't deserve its Engineers. They've increased efficiencies, lowered costs, and improved societies in ways politicians can only dream of doing. Engineers should run things, as depicted in the great 1936 sci-fi movie, "The Shape of Things to Come," starring Raymond Massey, and based on the 1933 H.G. Wells book of the same name. (self disclosure - Engineer speaking!) "Only now, when attempts to shrink transistors any smaller are bumping up against the limits of physics, has the pace of miniaturisation slowed." Apparently not a true statement anymore. One semiconductor manufacturer recently announced a breakthrough that will allow "Moore's Law" to continue for them indefinitely. By the way, Moore is one Engineer who made good money from his efforts. His estimated worth is between 6 and 7 billion dollars. Good for him!
6 people like this.

Reply 6 - Posted by: snakeoil 11/16/2019 1:48:28 PM (No. 236794)
Yes transistors have changed the world. But you couldn't carry cell phones or portable electronics without small reliable dc batteries. You have to have dc to bias the transistors. When I was young we used to laugh at Dick Tracy's wrist tv. Now everyone has one. And I used to have to stop at gas stations and get maps to find anything. Nowadays I just tell the GPS girl where I want to go. A hundred years from robots will do everything for us or we'll do everything for them. Wish I could be around to see it.
0 people like this.

Reply 7 - Posted by: solalogos 11/16/2019 2:24:59 PM (No. 236820)
There are approximately 8.5 BILLION transistors in current iPhones. Integrated circuits are impressive.
0 people like this.

Reply 8 - Posted by: MickTurn 11/17/2019 9:25:45 AM (No. 237358)
I've worked on equipment that had Vacuum Tubes...Yep I'm an Old F@rt!
1 person likes this.

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