Most readers of SolidSmack know how computer microchips work. But have you taken a good look at one, recently? I mean, a REALLY good look?

To get a better sense of just how tiny the electronics in a microchip are, the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (or NISE Net for short) zoomed into an old microchip to see up close what makes them tick:

Starting with a high-definition digital DSLR camera, the crew gets an excellent naked eye look at the chip. There isn’t much to see here, other than the accumulating dust on the outer sides of the chip and a closer look at the opened insides at the center.

zoomed in microchip

However, you can see the crevices on the circuit board as the camera zooms in, as well as the individual components located on the edge of the board. While still visible to the naked eye, you would most likely need the help of a magnifying glass to see the more intricate parts of the microchip.

zoomed in microchip

Once the view is switched to a scanning electron microscope (SEM), however, the chip starts to look more like a miniature city composed of interweaving electronics. Beginning with a close up look of a millimeter’s length of electronics, the SEM allows a person to zoom in up to a micron’s length (roughly 1,000 nanometers) of the microchip.

zoomed in microchip
zoomed in microchip
zoomed in microchip
zoomed in microchip

You would think a thousand nanometers is as small as things can get, but using a more powerful scope, the SEM allows you to see squared transistors measuring 20 nanometers making up the much larger electronics. 

zoomed in microchip

Take note this is a dated microchip. Microchips today are even smaller and have more compact circuitry on the nanometer level which leaves very little extra space within the chip. All this is made possible by the advancements in nanotechnology which allow for smaller and faster chips in today’s modern electronics.

If you’re feeling a particularly new interest in nanotechnologies, the NISE Net YouTube channel has all of your miniature needs set.

Author

Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.