Microelectronics - Ever smaller, ever faster

What are the dimensions of microelectronics? Against the backdrop of a picture of a 4-Mbit chip magnified 500 times, visitors are led from the dimensions of daily life to the structures of microelectronics. Microelectronics makes use of a special form of material - a single crystal or monocrystal. The atoms of a single crystal are located at fixed positions of a regular lattice.

Crystals

Material in crystalline form also occurs in nature. Rock crystal grows to a length of about a metre under constant conditions in the course of thousands of years. Synthetic monocrystalline silicon rods are manufactured in sizes of up to 30 cm in diameter and 200 cm in length. Cut into thin slices called wafers, they form the substrate on which microelectronic elements are implemented and interconnected.

Current (2011) chip production is able to turn out the finest structures which are a mere 32 nanometres in size. More than a million conductor paths can thus run in parallel over a space of just one millimetre. Production methods for 22 and 16 nanometres are already being researched.

There is still no end to miniaturisation in sight. An unexpected development “law” is still astonishing the scientific world: the number of transistors per surface area is doubled every 18 months or so. This rule devised by microelectronics pioneer Gordon Moore has held true for over 40 years.

Milestones

The chronology of electronics and microelectronics development is shown in the exhibition by four milestones, sculptures which guide visitors through the time aspect of the exhibition. Vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits and the almost simultaneous Intel developments of the 4004 microprocessor and the dynamic random access memory (DRAM) 1103 illustrate the changes in basic technology that have taken place in the last and this century.