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The Secret Art Of Chip Graffiti

Chip designers have often etched whimsical imagery onto their creations, but as automated tools improved and design cycles shrank, so did companies’ tolerance for the improvised extras

11 min read
Collection of various chips showing the diversity of chip art.
Images, Top & Bottom: Michael W. Davidson/Florida State University Middle: Chipworks Inc.

Collection of various chips showing the diversity of chip art.The diversity of chip art is revealed by (counterclockwise, from top) a whale on an Allen-Bradley/Rockwell node adapter IC; Hagar of comic strip fame, found on a Nokia cell phone chip; Waldo on a MIPS microprocessor that also sported a “license plate” with the processor‘s model number and version; and a muscleman from Siemens (now Infineon) on a power controller. The muscleman and Hagar were unearthed by reverse engineers at Chipworks Inc.Images, Top & Bottom: Michael W. Davidson/Florida State University Middle: Chipworks Inc.

Mike Davidson knows art when he sees it. But he didn’t expect to see it on a microchip. One day about six years ago, the senior research engineer was quietly working away in his lab at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, taking photographs for his annual chip-shot calendar, which features microscopic images of microchips. To fit as much of a MIPS R4000 chip as possible into a single photograph, he set his high-powered Nikon FX/L optical microscope at a relatively low magnification, between 25X and 100X. Then, to make the circuitry "pop" for a more richly detailed photo, he lit large areas of the chip with a tungsten-halogen light and increased the magnification to 600X. Suddenly, he saw a face [see photo, above].

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IEEE President’s Note: Looking to 2050 and Beyond

The importance of future-proofing IEEE

4 min read
Photo of K. J. Ray Liu

What will the future of the world look like? Everything in the world evolves. Therefore, IEEE also must evolve, not only to survive but to thrive.

How will people build communities and engage with one another and with IEEE in the future? How will knowledge be acquired? How will content be curated, shared, and accessed? What issues will influence the development of technical standards? How should IEEE be organized to be most impactful?

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The Device That Changed Everything

Transistors are civilization’s invisible infrastructure

2 min read
A triangle of material suspended above a base

This replica of the original point-contact transistor is on display outside IEEE Spectrum’s conference rooms.

Randi Klett

I was roaming around the IEEE Spectrum office a couple of months ago, looking at the display cases the IEEE History Center has installed in the corridor that runs along the conference rooms at 3 Park. They feature photos of illustrious engineers, plaques for IEEE milestones, and a handful of vintage electronics and memorabilia including an original Sony Walkman, an Edison Mazda lightbulb, and an RCA Radiotron vacuum tube. And, to my utter surprise and delight, a replica of the first point-contact transistor invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Shockley 75 years ago this month.

I dashed over to our photography director, Randi Klett, and startled her with my excitement, which, when she saw my discovery, she understood: We needed a picture of that replica, which she expertly shot and now accompanies this column.

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Fourth Generation Digitizers With Easy-to-Use API

Learn about the latest generation high-performance data acquisition boards from Teledyne

1 min read

In this webinar, we explain the design principles and operation of our fourth-generation digitizers with a focus on the application programming interface (API).

Register now for this free webinar!

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