Sample Term Paper: Semiconductors

Research PaperScience
Apr 17, 2022

Computers play an integral part in business operations, governmental management, and the personal lives of the population. This technology, whether some may perceive it as good or bad, is a significant and irreplaceable aspect of society. Moreso; semiconductors, which are important materials in manufacturing computer chips, have a key role in the efficiency and effectiveness of computers. These materials changed the technological landscape and allowed computers to become smaller and more powerful. This term paper will discuss the basic definition of semiconductors, their history, and how engineers transform the materials into powerful computer chips.

Definition of Semiconductors

Semiconductors, as their name suggests, possess electrical conductivity that is less powerful than conductors. This electrical conductivity tends to be in between the conductivity of conductors and insulators. They are present in most electronic devices and parts, such as diodes, transistors, integrated circuits, sensors, and more. Semiconductors tend to be small and have low power usage, which in turn lower their prices (Semiconductor, 2021). This makes them perfect materials for mass manufacturing electronic parts and further strengthens their role in technological engineering.

Most semiconductors possess the characteristics of conductors and insulators, giving them flexibility in terms of usage. As a conductor, a semiconductor can allow electric currents and thermal energy to flow through it and into a point. This means that semiconductors, such as silicon and germanium, can act like copper, aluminum, and gold. As an insulator, it acquires low conductivity which is not enough to allow electric currents to pass through. Through the process of becoming an insulator, a material can act like glass or wood. The conductivity of semiconductors can depend on their natural form and the process they went through under engineers.

The processes that semiconductors undergo can either be the “doping” process or reaching an absolute zero temperature. Depending on the process, a semiconductor will either become a conductor or an insulator. In the process of doping, engineers transform a semiconductor into a pure conductor by mixing the material with small amounts of impurity. This results in either a negatively-charged or positively-charged conductor, depending on the type of impurity that engineers used (Brain, 2021). Alternatively, a semiconductor can become an insulator when it reaches an absolute zero temperature. Under absolute zero, the electrons in the material are unable to move, thus reducing its conductivity to insulator levels (Conduction in Semiconductors, n.d.). Since semiconductors in their natural form are not useful to engineers, these conversion processes are integral to the utilization of the materials.

History of Semiconductors

The use of semiconductors in computer technology took multiple years to become the standard in the industry. This started in 1833 when Michael Faraday discovered that electrical conduction increases the temperature in silver sulfide crystals (, n.d.). The discovery pushed engineers to look at the behavior of silver sulfide, as well as other semiconductors, with regard to electronic use. By 1941, engineers had begun the production of purified germanium and silicon crystals for use as transistor materials for microwave detectors. In 1952, semiconductors became significant materials for battery-powered hearing aids and pocket radios (, n.d.). At this time, semiconductors are slowly replacing materials for computer manufacturing. By 1961, electrical engineers Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce had created the first silicon chip. This semiconductor-based chip revolutionized technology and allowed computers to become smaller while also performing better.

Semiconductors and Computer Chips

Semiconductors played an integral role in the development of computers and computer chips. The materials solved a significant issue that limited the accessibility and performance of early computers. The first computer, the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC) machine, was a bulky contraption that required a 167 square meter-wide floor space (History of Computers, n.d.). The ENIAC machine utilized more than 2,000 vacuum tubes to operate, which added to its bulk and cost. One vacuum tube can only store one bit of data on a thumb-sized storage. While the ENIAC machine was a positive innovation in computer technology, its costs were impractical for its performance.

Engineers eventually replaced vacuum tubes with transistors, which were more efficient than utilizing thousands of tubes. Transistors were capable of storing one bit of data on a fingernail-sized storage, which is a big step in comparison to the storage capacity of vacuum tubes. The only downside of transistors is the soldering requirement to make sure that each part operates correctly. This meant that engineers had to connect multiple circuits which eventually became complicated and ran the risk of faulty wiring (History of Computers, n.d.). In 1958, Jack St. Clair Kilby’s invention of the first integrated circuit or chip solved this issue. The integrated circuit was a collection of connected tiny transistors which removed the soldering requirement. Since the transistors connect with each other, engineers would only need to create connections between the integrated circuits and parts. Aside from solving connection issues, integrated circuits were able to store thousands of bits on a hand-sized storage, further increasing the computing power of computers.


There are a handful of semiconductor types available on Earth; however, engineers tend to utilize silicon more than others. The material dominates in the digital processing market and photovoltaics industry (Materials Science, n.d.). This preference is due to the abundance of the material, being the second-most abundant element on Earth. This means that acquiring the material is cheaper and easier than other semiconductors. Since manufacturers prefer to purchase, manufacture, and sell in bulk; the abundance of silicon allows for cost and energy efficiency.

Silicon, and other semiconductors, are present in most electronic systems but are most prevalent in microprocessing chips. A microprocessing chip or microprocessor is the central and most important part of any computing machine. It is responsible for all the calculations that a machine needs to do to function properly and quickly. Engineers utilize silicon to create the base or “wafer” for the microprocessor (Silicon Chips, n.d.). Basically, a microprocessor is a block of silicon that contains tiny parts capable of computation. This block will serve as the commanding unit of a computer, allowing it to perform complex tasks and make millions of calculations every second.

How Silicon Chips are Made

Since the creation of the first silicon chip, the tech industry has been relying on it to power computers and other electronics. According to Heaven (n.d.), the semiconductor silicon is responsible for the $500 billion chip industry and the $3 trillion global tech economy. Fortunately, the abundance of the element indicates that there will be no shortage of supply and that the manufacturing process will remain stable for the foreseeable future. Still, manufacturing silicon into a powerful microprocessor is an extensive and complex process that individuals must acknowledge and appreciate.

Removing Impurities From Silicon

The process begins with the removal of impurities from a silicon ingot. A silicon ingot is a disk-shaped platform, ranging from 1.5 inches to 4 inches in diameter (Leoffler, 2019). Engineers will have to heat up the ingot up to its melting point of about 1400°C and allow the impurities to settle at the bottom part. Once they have assessed that all impurities have moved down, they will cut and discard the bottom part, leaving a purified silicon crystal.

Preparing the Wafers

The next step is to create the wafers, which are silicon disks that will serve as the foundation for the chips. Depending on the size of the wafer, it can contain hundreds of individual chips. Engineers will cut these 0.01 to 0.025 inch-thick wafers from the purified silicon crystal they created. The wafers will undergo various heating and masking processes to form silicon dioxide layers and set their sizes (Leoffler, 2019; Whalen, 2021). Once the processes are done, the wafers will contain circuit masks that engineers will use during the engraving process.


Once the wafers have undergone the masking process, engineers can then proceed with engraving the shapes of the chips. They will use an etching machine to follow the circuit masks and establish the final design of the chips. The process will also include adding the necessary chemicals to make the chips operational. Engineers will have to repeat this process multiple times to create the layers of transistors in the chip (Whalen, 2021). This is necessary to establish connections inside and allow electricity to move within the chip.

Doping and Cutting the Chips

The doping process involves introducing dopants to the chips to alter the electrical charges and its conductivity. Engineers do this either through atomic diffusion or ion implantation. They use atomic diffusion to cover the large surfaces of the chips while they utilize ion implantation to target specific parts of the wafer. After the process is complete, the engineers will add a silicon dioxide layer to seal the surface of the wafer. The final step in the process is cutting the silicon chips on the wafer and turning them into individual pieces. The chips will also undergo testing to separate functional ones from the defective ones


Semiconductors play an integral role in the technological development industry. Along with the social impact of the Internet today, this role becomes more significant. Individuals and businesses alike rely on computers, and the semiconductors that power them, to accomplish tasks and keep vital processes running. Understanding the history and procedures behind semiconductors and silicon chips should help individuals appreciate the complex but wonderful inventions that ushered mankind’s technological age.

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Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia.(2021). Semiconductor. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at Accessed May 8, 2022. (n.d.). Silicon Engine. Timeline. Computer History Museum. Available at Accessed May 10, 2022.

Heaven, D. (n.d.) How the Chip Changed Everything. BBC. Available at . Accessed May 8, 2022. (n.d.). Silicon Chips: What are Computer Chips Made Of? Intel. Available at Accessed May 10, 2022.

Loeffler, J. (2019). How Do You Make An Integrated Circuit. Interesting Engineering. Available at Accessed May 10, 2022. (n.d.). Materials Science and Engineering: Semiconductors. University of Maryland, A. James Clark School of Engineering. Available at Accessed May 8, 2022. (n.d.). Conduction in Semiconductors. PVEducation. Available at Accessed May 10, 2022.

Whalen, J. (2021). Three Months, 700 Steps: Why it Takes So Long to Produce a Computer Chip. The Seattle Times. Available at Accessed May 10, 2022.

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