We speak of microelectronics when electrical engineering is used for the design, installation, maintenance, authorization, repair and control of very small electronic components and circuits. An obvious example of these components is the CPU of a mobile phone or a computer.
This technology began to be studied in the 1950s. Over the years, especially in the 1980s, microchips began to be used and exposed the potential of this new technology in communications, especially in satellites, television cameras, and telephones.
Microelectronics really took off in the late 1950s with the advent of integrated circuits (also known as chips).
In 2000, Jack Kilby, the inventor of the first integrated circuit, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to the development of information technology. Since then, the chip structure has become smaller and evolved into the current chip, enabling the technological and digital developments we are experiencing today.
What Is This Technology?
Microelectronics is the application of electronic science to very small, microscopic, or even molecular components and circuits to produce small but powerful electronic devices.
It is generally accepted that microelectronics refers to all technologies larger than 100 nanometers, while nanoelectronics is generally used to define technologies smaller than 100 nanometers; that is, technologies at the atomic and molecular level where the quantum laws of energy come into play.
The design of programmable integrated circuits, the series production of circuits, or the development of special design tools are some of the services offered by this technology.
This technology allows measuring instruments to analyze them in addition to making measurements. It also enables fully automatic control of industrial processes and equipment.
In fact, this technology has revolutionized the tools we use in almost everything, from industrial machines and tools, transportation and smart mobility, communication, and home appliances to the computers we use.
It is a branch of electronics that uses semiconductor components to design and manufacture small electronic circuits. Examples include smartphones, CPU chips, and PDAs.
Types of Technologies
The technologies used in microelectronics can be divided into several types, which in turn are divided by the level of integration, the type of transistors, materials, and their functions.
Thanks to this technology, it is possible to design and manufacture integrated circuits of smaller dimensions and optimized operation.
- Depending on the level of integration, that is, the number of components, the microelectronics can be:
- Small Scale Integration (SSI): Corresponds to integrated circuits that consist of less than 12 gates.
- Medium Scale Integration (MSI): Includes ICs with powers from 12 to 100. These are the ones that were used in the first computers in the 1970s.
- Large Scale Integration (LSI): contains more than 100 logic gates, up to 1000 gates. These integrated circuits perform all the functions. Its appearance was the starting point for the design of microprocessors.
- Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI): Products that have integrated circuits between 1,000 and 10,000 gates. These products have ushered in the era of miniaturization of electronic devices and have fueled the production of mobile devices.
- Depending on the type of transistors (basic components of the MNC), they can be:
- Bipolar: When a transistor has two types of charges in motion.
- MOS: When a single type of material is used without rectifying joints with a single charge sign.
- Depending on the material used in production:
- Silicon: High purity silicon is a characteristic semiconductor. It is used to make transistors and integrated circuits.
- Germanium: Used in semiconductors and transistors.
- Gallium arsenide: used in semiconductors. It is more expensive and more brittle than silicon, but it conducts electrical current and emits light better.
- According to its function:
- Digital (memory, microprocessor.).
The goal of nanoelectronics and microelectronics is to produce integrated circuits by minimizing the size of integrated devices and their interconnections.
In recent years, microelectronics, microsystems, and related technologies have developed rapidly and are now recognized as one of the main elements in the development of new electronic and non-electronic products. Thus, the microelectronics revolution is seen in telecommunications, instrumentation, robotics, medical electronics, industrial electronics, automotive applications, military industries, etc. Advances in this area, such as physical devices, manufacturing, circuit design, and system development, have created a very broad field of activity today.
The main difference between old electronics devices and the microelectronic devices of today is that they contain a large number of electronic components integrated in the same package, which makes them something intelligent, designed for specific functions.
To understand how a “chip” works, let’s assume that it consists of a large number of components, the most important of which are transistors. Each switch opens or closes based on the command received by a software, and reacts differently depending on the magnitude of the input and the software that controls the entire process, all of which make up the communication code.
Increased integration capabilities have created a method of distinguishing the technical complexity of each chip by the number of transistors it contains, starting with small-scale integrations of around a hundred transistors each.
In short, with microelectronics it is possible to achieve smaller circuits and components with optimum performance, while at the same time becoming more complex due to its integration techniques. On the other hand, in the design of digital circuits, the possibility of using microprocessors as a component represents a complete revolution in the creation of circuits and the substitution of classic components. To use it, it is necessary to know the electronic content, the hardware, and its programming method: the software.
Microelectronics and Nanotechnology
Advances in this area and the development of integrated circuits (chips) cover more and more areas of everyday life. Today, development in one part of the world can benefit another. This is not only due to the number of players developing the technology, but also due to its use.
Thanks to micro and nanotechnologies, very effective and economical products are achieved. For example, in a company, managers and employees may share the same cell phone because technology can reduce costs.
Another example is the use of chips or microelectronics in food to detect pesticide residues. The first large European project of these characteristics was called Good Food. These types of opportunities in micro and nanotechnology are very interesting because they affect society as a whole.
Electronic memories specially designed to cope with adverse conditions such as radiation, sudden changes in temperature and pressure are already being used in space. The project is a development that will allow evaluating the performance of non-volatile electronic memories (capable of storing information stored for a certain period of time without consuming energy) in space.
This is an electronic board specially designed for testing memory performance; which is different from traditional memory made of silicon. These are resistive memories: two metal plates with an oxide layer between them that have resistive properties and with a small storage memory. One of the advantages of these devices is that they are ideal for miniaturization and are very robust, so they are proven effective for satellite applications. They must be usable in hostile environments, able to withstand sudden movement, shock, radiation, and changes in temperature and pressure.
Present And Future of Microelectronics and Nanotechnology
Stealthy particles that fight cancer cells, faster microprocessors that consume less energy; batteries that last 10 times longer, or solar panels that produce twice the energy. These are just a few of the many applications of nanotechnology, a discipline that has all the ingredients to become the next industrial revolution.
Carbon nanotubes are poised to replace silicon as the primary material to make smaller, faster, and more efficient chips and devices, as well as lighter, more conductive, and stronger quantum nanowires.
The properties of graphene make it a perfect material for the development of flexible touch screens.
Air purification with ions, wastewater purification with nanobubbles, or heavy metal nanofiltration systems are some of its environmentally friendly applications.
Nanocatalysts can also be used to make chemical reactions more efficient and less polluting. Nanotechnology makes it possible to develop smart fabrics that do not stain or wrinkle, as well as stronger, lighter, and more durable materials for motorcycle helmets, or sports equipment.
The industry is expected to grow globally due to factors such as technological advances, increased government subsidies, increased private investment, and increased demand for small equipment.
However, environmental, health, and safety risks associated with nanotechnology, and concerns related to its commercialization may hinder market expansion.
The United States, Brazil, and Germany will lead the nanotechnology industry by 2024, with a significant presence in the top 15 Asian countries, including Japan, China, South Korea, India, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
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