Chemical engineers pioneered the mass production of silicon microchips in the 1970s.

Achievemnets in Electronics

This durable, high-performance ultraviolet light–sensing chip, used in a miniature camera, is able to withstand the rigors of space flight, thanks to its chemically engineered tough silicon lattice. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The semiconductor industry was born in the late 1950s when the first microchip, or integrated circuit, was created. Continuing advances have made possible the current generation of semiconductor chips, which can store 3,355 pages of text on a device approximately the size of a dime.

Chemical engineers, who contributed to the invention of semiconductor devices, are also routinely involved with the development of advanced semiconductor materials and the manufacturing processes required to produce them.

Chip materials

A semiconductor is essentially any material whose ability to conduct electricity lies between that of an insulator and that of a conductor. Germanium was the semiconductor material used in the first integrated circuit. Next, silicon was used as the base material, which led the way to the first commercial-scale production of integrated circuits. Learn more >>

Ultra pure materials

As chip makers add more and more transistors to ever-smaller semiconductor chips, the presence of even the tiniest of impurities can literally ruin an individual chip and severely reduce manufacturing capacity. So the purity requirements for the chemicals used in chip manufacturing have been dramatically increased. Learn more >>

Mass production

After the integrated circuit was first created and the appropriate materials identified, the focus shifted to the challenge of manufacturing on a commercial scale. Here, many specialized chemical-engineering disciplines, from fluid mechanics to kinetics, have been instrumental in developing current semiconductor manufacturing processes. Learn more >>

Ultra clean processing

Semiconductor manufacturing facilities rely on clean rooms. The goal is to remove from these rooms even the smallest particle that could come in contact with the chips. Standards allow for no more than 1 dust particle per cubic foot of air compared with the approximately 10,000 dust particles per cubic foot found in our modern hospitals. Learn more >>