Electronic Components: Integrated Circuits
On the surface, an integrated circuit (IC) looks basically like a solitary microchip, however, ICs are anything but a simple chip, they are in fact made up of many tiny transistors “integrated” into a circuit on a single chip. ICs act pretty much as a “building block” in terms of circuit design, meaning basically that their design and manufacture is standardized and low cost made possible by printing the circuits with photolithography. Mass production is simple, easy and reliable making ICs an easy component to source. In short, ICs put a lot of computing power into a really small and affordable package. While they are important readily available now, this wasn’t always the case.
In the early days of computers and electronics, most electronic machines and computers took up large amounts of space and often created more problems/costs than they solved/saved, this was referred to as the “tyranny of numbers.” As a result, many engineers and scientists were working on ways to make this a more useful and affordable technology and after the invention of the transistor in 1947, computers, at last, became a feasible tool. The first integrated circuit to combine multiple transistors into a single circuit was in 1949, created by Werner Jacobi. This first IC consisted of five transistors on a semiconductor, however Jacobi’s design didn’t really take off, although there were a number of other hands afterwards, like G.W.A. Drummer, that were involved with the invention of the IC. Credit for the actual invention of the integrated circuit would eventually go largely to Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments in 1958. Kilby’s story is pretty interesting, he had no vacation time during a time when almost everyone else was not working and so was left largely alone to work and came up with an integrated circuit. His first IC was basically just a few components with a transistor on a small piece of germanium, and although it wasn’t actually THE first, it was probably the first to be successful. Kilby wasn’t alone in getting credit, sometimes Robert Noyce’s name shows up, having developed something similar independently around the same time.
Since this invention in the late 50’s, integrated circuits have had many improvements and advances. ICs now come in many, many variations, though dual in-line packages (DIP) are the most common. DIPs are the black chips with all the parallel pins making it look like a bug. Despite the variation, all ICs are polarized meaning that each individual pin serves a specific role. You can help ensure the proper polarity by finding the notch and the dot that indicates the location of the first pin. Today’s ICs also have plenty of options for mounting and installing them into circuits. Through-hole ICs stick into a circuit board and are soldered on the other side, while surface-mount, obviously, are soldered directly to the surface of a board. There are a few other options, however their use depends greatly on what you’re using the IC for.
While there are many uses for integrated circuits, there are really few limits as to what they can do. Most often you will find them being used in AV applications, memory, encoding/decoding, sensors in medical devices, and much, much more. Any sort of job that needs a lot of computing power in a small package will need an IC in some form. So basically everything.
In years past, simple computers once took up entire rooms and floors of buildings. Computing was expensive and often not worth the cost involved. That all changed with the invention of the transistor and the integrated circuit soon after. These inventions allowed computing to be done efficiently as the pieces that made it up got smaller and easier to mass produce. As technology improves and grows, ICs will continue to play an important role in things to come, although we will have to come up with some sort of work around for the limits of Moore’s law. Right now, a single IC can hold billions of transistors, though how much further this can be pushed remains to be seen.