Semiconductor chips have been in the news a lot in the past few years. We’ve seen shortages of them in the auto industry and now generative AIs such as ChatGPT gobble up vast quantities of their computing power. If you’re intrigued by all the buzz around semiconductor chips and want to know more, we’ve got the perfect exhibit for you.
From the very first microprocessors such as the Intel 4004 and TI 1000 to more modern chips made by Intel, AMD, Apple, Sun, Oracle, and others, we’ve put together an awe-inspiring collection of artfully framed chips that shaped technology innovation over many decades. The exhibit was made possible through the generosity of Patrick Mulreaney, a former Hewlett-Packard Co. engineer who donated his large private collection to the museum. For Patrick, semiconductor chips tell an incredible innovation story. Over time, engineers designed better methods to fabricate chips that could contain millions of transistors.
Along with better fabrication methods, chip designers also sometimes added a bit of “chip graffiti” to help ensure that anyone stealing the chip designs by simply copying the stencils or masks would also get the graffiti, which would give the thief away. Tiny images crafted as part of the production process cannot be viewed without magnification, so they were mostly discovered by those aiming to reverse-engineer the chips. But in 1984, copying a semiconductor chip’s mask was an automatic copyright violation, and graffiti no longer served a useful purpose.
When semiconductor chips replaced circuits containing discrete components, our electronic devices got smaller, simpler to make, and more powerful. Then as manufacturing costs fell along with the space on a circuit board needed, our devices got even smaller and more portable. Innovations in chip architecture continue to shrink our devices while also providing more processing power and consuming less energy—to the point where a single chip today can host tens of billions of transistors.
Dive into how a semiconductor works and then learn about the fascinating and painstaking processes used to transform silicon from grains of sand into millions of tiny silicon chips that power everything from our video games and cars to our smartphones and even the International Space Station.
Join us to marvel at these incredible technology artifacts as we kick off an amazing exhibit with a wonderful Museum After Hours event. We can’t wait to see you there.