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A Glimmer of Light From Silicon

Engineers get silicon nanowires to emit light, but a silicon laser remains on the horizon

3 min read
A Glimmer of Light From Silicon
Surface Plasmons Light Silicon: As great as it would be to have lasers and computer chips that are made of the same stuff, silicon is a very reluctant light emitter. But electromagnetic oscillations at the boundary of a silicon nanowire and silver—surface plasmons—can overcome this problem, engineers recently found.
Illustration by Emily Cooper

Getting silicon to emit light is no easy feat, but it remains the dream of many photonics engineers, who almost reflexively refer to it as “the holy grail.” Now a team of materials scientists at the University of Pennsylvania say they might have managed it.

“This is the first demonstration of bulk silicon emitting light in the visible range,” says Ritesh Agarwal, head of the Nanoscale Phase-Change and Photonics group at UPenn.

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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