The world of technology is constantly evolving, and one area that has seen significant change is the development of faster and more capable computers. For decades, performance improvements in microchips were achieved by shrinking individual components, a concept known as Moore’s Law. However, this approach is reaching its limits as chip elements become so small that they can now be measured on the scale of a few atoms.
As a result, technology companies are turning to materials science to drive further advancements in computer capabilities. Applied Materials, based in Santa Clara and founded in 1967, is at the forefront of this revolution. The company specializes in materials science and invents new manufacturing processes for microchip production.
Materials science is an interdisciplinary field that combines structural engineering and chemical engineering to discover new compounds and innovative ways to use them. Applied Materials works closely with chipmakers like Intel and suppliers such as ASML to develop advanced manufacturing techniques for microchips.
The shift towards materials science is driven by the necessity to overcome the limitations of shrinking chip components. By manipulating materials at the atomic level and improving their connections within microchips, engineers can continue making computers faster and more capable.
However, this transition comes with challenges. As microchip characteristics are reduced, the tolerance for error decreases while the number of manufacturing steps increases. The cost of building new microchip factories has also skyrocketed, exceeding $10 billion per facility.
Applied Materials has been pushing the boundaries of material sculpting at an atomic level. While engineers still strive to shrink chip features, progress is slower than before. To maintain advancements despite these limitations, companies like ASML play a crucial role by developing complex devices that manipulate extreme ultraviolet light.
Applied Materials and its competitors focus on depositing materials on chips and removing unwanted parts through sophisticated chemistry processes. With three-dimensional chip design becoming more prevalent, additional layers require specialized equipment manufactured by materials science companies.
Logic chips – central processing units found in next-generation computers – can require over 1,500 individual manufacturing steps due to their complex three-dimensional structure. Each layer may involve multiple processes such as etching patterns, depositing atom-thick layers of materials, and selectively removing undesired substances.
Applied Materials’ expertise is vital for these intricate manufacturing steps. Even the smallest defects can render a microchip non-functional, highlighting the importance of precision and quality control in chip production.
It’s worth noting that other major chip companies like Intel, TSMC, and Samsung rely on Applied Materials and similar materials science companies for their hardware and expertise. As chipmakers demand more innovation, Applied Materials is investing in a new $4 billion research and development facility to continue pushing the boundaries of silicon-based microchips.
The apprehension, the way technology companies deliver faster and more capable computers is undergoing profound change at the atomic level. The limitations of shrinking chip components have led to a greater reliance on materials science. Applied Materials and its competitors play a crucial role in developing advanced manufacturing techniques for microchips. As technology continues to advance, these companies will remain essential in driving further improvements in computer capabilities.
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