Streams

Please Explain: Microchips

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy 50th birthday to the microchip! On Please Explain, find out how microchips work, what they do for us in our everyday lives, and how far they’ve come since they were first introduced 50 years ago. Dr. Simha Sethumadhavan is Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Director of the Computer Architecture Laboratory at Columbia University; Steven Levy is Senior Writer for Wired magazine.

Guests:

Steven Levy
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Comments [10]

Bjorn Roche from Brooklyn

I write software for the music industry. More than once I have met people and told them what I do and they say something like "how does music relate to 1s and 0s" which is a question I begin answering by telling them to forget about 1s and 0s, and instead to think about how all our most complex ideas are built on simple fundamentals and computers are like that: each piece is a simple building block, which someone else assembles into more complex pieces, which then become building blocks for the next person.

I think it is standard practice when explaining computer science to laypeople to talk about 1s and 0s and I think this was on aspect of this discussion that has only served to confuse people, because it simply boggles peoples minds that word processors, CD players, the internet and microwave ovens have anything to do with 1s and 0s.

Sep. 12 2008 06:14 PM
Simha

Isaac:

"I have no idea what these guys are talking about. (I'm just a heart surgeon.) Is there any better way to explain microchips?" and

"Ruby2sday from Lynbrook September 12, 2008 - 01:54PM

Very confusing... "

If you come down to Columbia during our summer open house I will be happy to explain more.

Best,
Simha

Sep. 12 2008 04:42 PM
Simha

Anon from Long Island -

"Are the chips created for use in space different than those used on earth? Do they need extra shielding from radiation, heat, cold, etc."

Thanks for listening in and your question. Yes, the power from radition can turn flip the transistor switches and cause cosmic chip malfunction.

Shielding using 3ft of concrete is not very useful...Redundant computation and special transistor manufacturing steps are used to radiation harden the transistor.

You can learn more here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hardening

Best,
Simha

Sep. 12 2008 04:39 PM
Ruby2sday from Lynbrook

Very confusing...

Sep. 12 2008 01:54 PM
tony from los angeles

can the guests comment on the impending and significant drop in cost of polysilicon and polysilicon wafers and how that will affect the prices of microchips and even photovoltaic panels? LDK solar of China is currently ramping up to add an additional 25% of poly to this market

Sep. 12 2008 01:51 PM
Isaac

I have no idea what these guys are talking about. (I'm just a heart surgeon.) Is there any better way to explain microchips?

Sep. 12 2008 01:50 PM
robert from park slope

What is an analog chip -- as those made by the company Analog Devices -- and what are they used for?

Sep. 12 2008 01:50 PM
anon from Long Island

Are the chips created for use in space different than those used on earth? Do they need extra shielding from radiation, heat, cold, etc?

Sep. 12 2008 01:49 PM
Byron Kim from Brooklyn

I heard that a chip is being developed that uses much less energy than the current generation and runs much cooler. What is the status of this? When can we expect these to be available in p.c.'s?

Sep. 12 2008 01:37 PM
James from Jersey City

Transistors were given to humans by aliens. True story!

Sep. 12 2008 01:33 PM

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