February 1960 Radio-Electronics

February 1960 Radio-Electronics

February 1960 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) was a Luxembourgish-American inventor, writer, editor, and publisher who is often referred to as the "Father of Science Fiction." Gernsback was also an inventor and entrepreneur, and was awarded many patents, including for early television systems. He founded several companies, including the Gernsback Publications, which published a variety of magazines that included this one, Radio-Electronics, and its predecessor, Electronics World, and before that, Radio Craft. Mr. Gernsback was undeniably qualified to pontificate and prognosticate on the future of the electronics industry, as he does in his February 1960 editorial in Radio-Electronics magazine.

Microelectronics... A Major Revolution in Electronics Is Shaping ...

Microelectronics, February 1960 Radio-Electronics - RF CafeHugo Gernsback, Editor

Ever since the beginning of radio, and later the electronic art, components have steadily shrunk. We have reported its progress on this page at regular intervals.*

During the past few years, the shrinking of practically all electronic parts has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, so rapidly, in fact, that at this moment the art already has moved into molecular electronics - termed by some research laboratories molectronics.

RCA, General Electric, Westinghouse, Bell Laboratories, IBM, Texas Instruments are only a few of the pioneering researchers who are now deeply in microelectronics, a development that presages a revolution far greater than even the advent of the transistor.

To grasp this new advance fully, let us report that already the laboratories have components so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye - they are truly of microscopic size! Nor do they look at all like the usual units. In fact, if the scientist who demonstrates the item to you did not assure you that the little speck you glimpsed under the microscope was a transistor or a capacitor or a resistor, you probably would not believe it. Yet such microcomponents are already facts today in the laboratory. By the mid-1960's, they will probably be for sale in civilian items, such as hearing aids, bio-electronic medical appliances and others. Microradios, considerably less than 1 inch square, will most likely appear by 1965 or earlier.

Why this frantic reduction in size? There are excellent reasons for it. First, economics - a huge shrinking in materials, in weight and, consequently, in cost, becomes possible. Second, and more important, in the coming microelectronics art, practically all - if not all - soldering will have disappeared, as an anachronism and technical barbarism. Hence, there will be little of the ancient disease of miscontacts or even worse, "intermittents" that have plagued manufacturers and service technicians for generations.

Third, and of vast importance: Military and coming space requirements are so stringent and so vital that large size and failures of components are matters of continuous threat to life. Hence they cannot be tolerated - there just cannot be a failure in future electronic gear.

In microelectronics, the reduction of size and weight, as well as other advantages - for instance, practically indestructible components that never wear out - will usher in a new age for the art.

What really is microelectronics? Stripped of most scientific and technical terms, it is the production and adaptation of microfilms so thin that they measure only one molecule thick.

We know the molecule is the smallest particle of matter that can exist by itself and still retain all the properties of the original element. That we really have to do with microscopic dimensions will be better appreciated when we realize that it takes nearly 1,000,000 films the thickness of one molecule to measure 1 inch thick! †

Yet, unlikely as it sounds, it is possible to fashion capacitors, resistors and even transistors of single or multiple molecules, that behave exactly as their big brothers. It even becomes possible to build amplifiers and switching devices for computers that are so tiny that they can be seen only under a high-power microscope.

The microfilms that make this revolutionary art possible today are fashioned from either silicon or germanium, but it is certain that in the future other materials will be used as well, At present, there are various techniques - all more or less experimental - for fashioning the various components. Normally, the raw materials are sprayed, sputtered or evaporated in a high vacuum under considerable heat, as the first step. An insulating film, one or two molecules thick, may then be sprayed on; then the first step may be repeated, A few such steps will result in a workable microcapacitor. Resistors and transistors are created in similar fashion.

One may start with a metallic or insulating base, then build the component on top of it, The next required component can go right on top of the first one, depending upon the desired circuit. Or, if necessary, another component can be fashioned alongside the first one, and so forth.

The various components can readily be insulated from each other by spraying various amounts of oxygen, which then forms an oxide film on them. By proper manipulation, the components, whenever required, will be connected electrically with each other, either by direct contact or by sprayed metal film. Hence such sophisticated "micro-wiring" will no longer be the bothersome factor our present-day crude wiring or even printed circuits are.

It can be seen that in using these and other more refined techniques it becomes feasible to build complete radio chassis so tiny that hundreds of them can be placed in a single thimble!

It becomes clear now why such micro-assemblies are so rugged that they will be practically indestructible. Their minuscule size. and micro-weight, safeguards the structure against shock and mechanical stress, This is of utmost importance for military and space applications.

While such microelectronic assemblies can readily be connected and interconnected to other assemblies, they can also be electrically connected to their respective power supply.

Although batteries for portable electronic gear have steadily shrunk in size, chemical type dry cells probably will not be able to contract down to molecular size in the foreseeable future. And if they could, their power output would be so microscopic that they would never be able to drive even the smallest speaker for more than a few seconds.

Yet microbatteries with a serviceable electrical output are an early and foreseeable possibility, We speak of atomic batteries here. There is no difficulty in building them down to molecular size. Atomic batteries predicted by us in 1945 are a reality today, They are certain to be incorporated - along with other components into self-powered microelectronic assemblies during the next 10 years. - H.G.

* See "Midget Radio Sets," January. 1931; "Shrinking Radio," January, 1944; "Miniature Radios," September, 1944; "Microtubes; November, 1947; "Miniradios; November, 1953: "Minitelevision," August, 1956 - and many others.

† The figure was based on the molecule of ordinary water (H2O). Atoms of silicon and germanium have diameters in the order of one ten-millionth inch, and therefore would form much thinner films.



Posted February 21, 2023