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The Hidden Beauty of Integrated Circuits

Gareth Halfacree

Integrated circuits often look dull and uninspiring, clad as they are in black or grey plastic and ceramic. Even microprocessors, some of the most complex ICs in existence, have a plain metal cover as their focal point. Take the lid off and fire up a microscope, however, and their true beauty is exposed. These classic shots from Andrew Resnick, source of the image above, are a perfect example: simple field-effect transistors (FETs) look like Pac-Man stages, while more complex ICs take on the appearance of city maps. Sometimes there are even hidden secrets, as gathered in the Florida State University's Silicon Zoo collection. Whether the hidden complexity is taken as a metaphor for life or not, there's one thing that rings true: electronics can be an art, as well as a science.

Let’s be clear - we are conservators, not barbarians. We are not going to mindlessly destroy these items, even though they have very little intrinsic value. We will proceed in such a way as to minimise the number of decapsulated chips, minimise any damage caused by decapsulation, and maximise the educational value obtained by displaying the interior circuit. This honours the historical value of these devices.

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