Silicon Wafer - Three Phases of Making a Wafer


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About this Artwork

These three wafers were made by GMT Microelectronics just before the turn of the century in 1999. The wafers are 5" in diameter. The finished wafer at the bottom has about 2,000 GMT 1F04 computer chips on it. These chips were used in equipment that attached to an SCSI data storage bus. These chips helped mediate the high-speed data communications needed to transfer data between the SCSI hard drives and the computer. GMT was the final incarnation of the chip company that started out as MOS, who created the 6502 microprocessor, and later became Commodore Semiconductor Group, and finally GMT. The top silicon wafer is a blank polished wafer. No chips are on it. The middle wafer is an incomplete 1F04 wafer. It has multiple layers etched on it already, but still requires more layers plus the final metal layer to complete it.

Above-left is a close-up of a small section of the incomplete 1F04 silicon wafer (the middle wafer). Above-right is the same section of the 1F04, but of the complete version (the bottom wafer)

About Making Computer Chips:

Computer chips start out as ordinary sand, which is silicon dioxide. However, the silicon must be made very, very pure. The first step is to melt the sand, in a furnace that reaches about 3200o F, and mix with carbon. This first purification process creates 99% pure Silicon, a common output is Silicon Carbide. The Silicon Carbide is processed in a trichlorosilane distillation method to create 99.9999% pure silicon called polycrystalline silicon. The polysilicon is broken up into chunks. These chunks are melted in a crucible at about 2500o F. A silicon crystal seed is dipped in molten silicon and slowly drawn out to create a cylinder of silicon. These silicon cylinders are some of the purest crystals on the planet. Once the silicon cylinder is grown to the desired diameter, it is sawed into wafers. These wafers are polished to achieve a very flat mirror surface. Transistors, and other microelectronic parts, are built on the polished wafer in layers in a process called etching. The wafer is then sawed into its individual chips. Each chip is mounted in an electronic package that serves to protect it and connect it to the outside world. It has been said that computer chips are the greatest value-added product in the world. We essentially take a pile of sand and change it into thousands of dollars worth of computer chips.


    The artwork is 9"x20" in a black shadow box frame, with glass. All framing materials are acid-free. A narrative about the artwork that includes the artist’s signature is placed on the back of the artwork.

    Please note:  The look of the artifacts in the artworks may vary, each piece is unique.