Semiconductors, sometimes referred to as integrated circuits (ICs) or microchips, are made from pure elements, typically silicon or germanium, or compounds such as gallium arsenide. In a process called doping, small amounts of impurities are added to these pure elements, causing large changes in the conductivity of the material.
Due to their role in the fabrication of electronic devices, semiconductors are an important part of our lives. Imagine life without electronic devices. There would be no smartphones, radios, TVs, computers, video games, or advanced medical diagnostic equipment.
Developments in semiconductor technology during the past 50 years have made electronic devices smaller, faster, and more reliable. Think for a minute of all the encounters you have with electronic devices. How many have you seen or used in the last 24 hours? Each has important components that have been manufactured with electronic materials.
A single semiconductor chip has as many transistors as all of the stones in the Great Pyramid in Giza, and today there are more than 100 billion integrated circuits in daily use around the world—that’s equal to the number of stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy.
It is truly a modern marvel, a feat of human ingenuity and engineering unmatched by any other industry.
Semiconductor firms generally organize their activities around the two main stages of semiconductor production: design and manufacturing. Companies that focus only on design are referred to as “fabless” firms, while companies that focus only on manufacturing are called “foundries.” Semiconductor firms that do both are called Integrated Device Manufacturers, or IDMs.