Semiconductors: a Brief History


In physics, a semiconductor is a material that conducts electricity more than an insulator, but less than a pure conductor. Many electronic appliances as well as social infrastructure in our everyday lives rely on semiconductors. From medical and military equipment to cars and brand-new smartphones, you can find these devices everywhere.

Today, the semiconductor industry is valued at $527 billion, according to statistics. Hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in this sector every year.

However, it took humanity at least 200 years of scientific, engineering, and political advances to get this one semiconductor.

The first steps in the creation of a semiconductor

  • In 1833, Michael Faraday was the first to observe the semiconductor effect. The physicist noted that the electrical resistance of silver sulfide decreases with temperature.
  • The first semiconductor diode effect was discovered and documented by Karl Brown in 1874. Brown noticed that the current only flowed freely in one direction at the contact between the metal tip and the galena crystal.

“Cat’s whiskers” and the great-grandfather of the modern computer

  • As early as 1901, Jagadis Chandra Bose invented the first point-contact rectifier, called “cat’s whisker”, a semiconductor device for converting AC into DC. Radios were developed using “cat whiskers.” However, such a rectifier was too unpredictable and frequently required manual adjustment.
  • The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was the first programmable electronic digital computer. This “giant brain” was officially opened at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. The cost of ENIAC, equivalent to its 2020 cost, was $5,900,000.

The era of transistors

  • With the invention of transistors in 1947, which are devices made of semiconductor material, the semiconductor industry made a giant leap forward. Because of their small size, they were able to replace vacuum tubes and contributed to the miniaturization of technology. The number of computers grew tremendously after transistors were invented.

Devices for Sensors and Bullet Train

  • The invention of semiconductor power devices has revolutionized electronics. These semiconductors, capable of operating at high currents and high voltages, are used to control and convert electricity. The bullet trains, household appliances, solar panels, and wind turbines all operate because of them.
  • MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) was the next step. Ultra-compact systems consisting of micromechanical components mounted on silicon wafers. MEMS can be used to produce digital microdisplays (DMDs) for projectors, nozzles inside inkjet printer heads, and various sensors. Additionally, these systems are used in blood test chips and catheters for medical devices.

New trends

The semiconductor industry continues to evolve today. A new trend has emerged in the field — the democratization of chip design, the opening of source code. An open development model will push the boundaries and attract innovative developers. A fresh perspective can help you quickly find creative solutions.

Due to our years of experience and certifications across the medical, military, semiconductor, consumer, testing, and other industries, we at ABC Assembly are always happy to help business owners in any industry.