If you have ever wondered why there is a place named “Silicon Valley” in California, it is because the material known as silicon is an excellent, one of the most abundant “semiconductors” for electronic circuits, especially the tiny ones that power your phone, your computer, and just about everything we use today. The work to make these circuits and devices and inventions is often considered under the umbrella of microtechnology, or micro-electronics.
In general, the term "semiconductor" denotes a material that exhibits electrical conductivity that falls between that of conductors, such as copper or aluminum, and insulators, such as glass. However, when people refer to semiconductors, they are primarily talking about semiconductor chips made by companies such as Intel, Micron, Nvidia, and TSMC, to name just a few.
As a super basic explanation, electronic devices need components that can move electricity or resist it. A conductive material can be made more or less conductive through various techniques (temperature, doping, or by combining it with other materials). Chips are made from these thin slices of conductive silicon material; intricate components arranged in specific patterns that regulate the flow of current by means of electrical switches, known as transistors. A simple way to understand this “control” of electrical current is found in a typical household circuit by flipping a switch to turn on a light.
Unlike mechanical switches, that light switch in your home that you flip on or off with your finger, semiconductor switches are exclusively electrical. A single chip often contains tens of billions of switches, all nestled in a minute space that is barely the size of a fingernail. The first chips had 100 or 200 transistors (switches) and today IBM is working on one with billions. Yes, Billions.
What Kind of Job Can You Get In Microtechnology?
So, what can you do in this world of microtechnology, micro-electronics, semiconductors, among many other specialty areas that are connected to this technology?
Let’s review: Microtechnology deals with creating and controlling things that are incredibly small, around the size of a micrometer (a millionth of a meter). This type of tech is used to make microelectronic circuits (tiny components, such as transistors and capacitors, that are integrated onto a small piece of material, usually a semiconductor like silicon) and also micro electromechanical systems (MEMS), which are an essential part of today's technology, like your phone, camera, or computer. Microtechnology's most famous success is the integrated circuit.
Take a look at this detailed career page from the SEMI Foundation, of the major industry groups for semiconductor manufacturers to give you an idea of how broad the opportunity is for technicians and engineers, and many other specialties you might not have thought about. From high school diploma, to a certificate program, associates degree to a four year bachelors, there are opportunities for everyone.
In one area alone, MEMS sensors can be connected to the popular Raspberry Pi or Arduino microcontrollers, and an entire new device is invented. People just like you are imagining new ways to use this technology to change the world:
- Accelerometer - a sensor to measure acceleration and tilt. It can be used to detect movement or orientation as well.
- Gyroscope - a sensor that measures rotational motion and tracks orientation
- Magnetometer - a sensor for navigation, compass applications, and sensing the Earth's magnetic field
- Pressure Sensor - a sensor for weather monitoring and altitude measurement, to name a couple.
Real Life Examples
- Water pressure sensors are available today for your washer, or water heater.
- Air quality sensors that monitor indoor air, such as CO2, dust, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your home, or in commercial environments. A quick Google search will reveal a host of home products.
- Soil moisture sensors for plants that measure the amount of water in the soil (and connections that allow you to water your plant remotely)
- Smart home energy consumption sensors that measure the amount of energy being used by appliances and devices in the home
Microtechnology Terms (Updated regularly with links to resources)
- Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS): refers to sophisticated mechanical systems that are miniaturized and integrated onto a single chip.
- Photolithography: a process used in microtechnology construction that involves using lightwaves to solidify a chemical film.
- Integrated Circuit (IC): a microtechnology success that involves combining multiple transistors on a single chip to improve performance and reduce cost.
- Surface Micromachining: a type of MEMS process that involves machining a surface to produce a desired geometry. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/surface-micro-machining
- LIGA: a type of MEMS process that involves using X-rays to create high-aspect-ratio structures.
- EFAB: a type of MEMS process that involves using a thin film process https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/746824
- Microchip: a single, miniaturized piece of silicon that contains an integrated circuit.
- Nanotechnology - The study and application of extremely small structures and materials, typically in the 1-100 nm range.
- LIGA - A German acronym that stands for Lithographie, Galvanoformung, Abformung, a process used to produce complex 3D structures in microtechnology.
- Microfluidics - The study of microscale fluidics and the behavior of fluids in small channels and microstructures.
Nanotechnology is the science and engineering of small nanoscale material. Nanotechnology is a convergence technology, a new and highly interdisciplinary field of STEM, embracing concepts from: Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Material Science, Engineering, and Computer Science.
1 billonth of
1 millonth of
According to NSF: Convergence research is a means of solving vexing research problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation.
In other words, Convergence science, converge (or integrate) knowledge from multiple scientific and engineering disciplines in order to solve real-word problems.
“ Convergence is the deep integration of knowledge techniques, and expertise from multiple field to form new and expanded frameworks for addressing scientific and societal challenges and opportunities.”
Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at a dimension of approximately 1-100 nm, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Microtechnology deals with matter at a dimension of above 100 nm to several micrometers.
When combined, nano and micro technologies together lead to a strong driving force of the world’s economy, and has exerted significant societal impact over a broad range of applications. A trillion micro-nano devices, including virtual reality, healthcare and voice processing, together with many important manufacturing applications and materials are influenced by micro nano technology. The growth of these emerging technologies requires an increase in the workforce trained in micro-nanotechnologies.