《A Brief History of Chips》

《A Brief History of Chips》 2023

        “A Brief History of Chips” offers a comprehensive overview of the invention and development of microchips, tracing their origins from the beginnings of semiconductor physics to the invention of the transistor, and the birth and evolution of microchips. It narrates how digital chips, analog chips, optoelectronic chips, as well as chip design and photolithography manufacturing methods were invented and developed, while also looking ahead at the challenges facing microchips.

The distinguishing feature of this book is its blend of storytelling, educational content, and inspirational insights. It seeks to avoid excessive use of technical jargon and formulas, instead focusing on the concrete stories of individuals and their inventions.

From the decision to write to the final publication, the book underwent a three-year journey, and it is now finally ready for print. With over 500 pages and hundreds of references, including a list of key figures and their interconnections in the history of microchips in the appendix, it forms a comprehensive portrait of the pioneers in the field. Additionally, a pull-out color insert showcases important events in the history of microchip development.





– Wenjin Book Award (by National Library: http://wenjin.nlc.cn/wjtsj/index)

– Douban annual book for Science and new knowledge (book.douban.com/subject/36357053/)

– Guangzhou Book fair 2024 Top 10 book

– Southen China Book fair 2023 Top 10 book

– Scientific America Chinese version (huan qiu zhong guo)  2023 Top 10 book

– 21st Centuray Economic News Annual book 2023

– New discovery 3rd Recommended Book List 

Book Description

Book Description:

“A Brief History of Chips” is a tale of innovation and rebellion. This is the central theme that the book aims to convey. Innovation involves deviating from the mainstream and disrupting existing norms, which can initially seem awkward and difficult to integrate. Rarely does a major innovation gain widespread acceptance right away. While people often pay lip service to the importance of innovation, what they truly prefer is incremental improvement, which yields immediate results and thus enjoys popularity.

Today, the significance of microchips hardly needs elaboration, as everyone has experienced firsthand a series of chip crises in recent years. Addressing these crises requires original innovation, and the only way forward is through sincerity and a realistic appraisal of both the present and the past.

This book offers a comprehensive account of the invention and development of microchips, particularly focusing on the stories of a group of rebellious individuals who broke with tradition and constantly innovated.

Although the history of microchips spans just over 60 years, understanding its full context requires tracing back over 100 years. Throughout this century-plus, the innovation stories in semiconductor technology are countless, yet they all follow a consistent pattern of rebellion.

The book starts with the basics of semiconductor physics, stemming from quantum mechanics, and evolves into semiconductor devices. These devices, ranging from simple to complex, like sprouting seeds, give rise to bipolar transistors, MOS field-effect transistors, photodiodes, and more, eventually integrating into analog chips (such as communication and sensor chips), digital chips (such as CPUs, memory, and field-programmable gate arrays), and optoelectronic chips. Finally, the book showcases the development of chip design and manufacturing methods from manual to automated processes, while also highlighting the challenges and potential solutions facing the future of microchips.

This book is suitable for anyone interested in microchips. If you are a researcher, you will grasp the trajectory of semiconductor technology development and discern patterns and laws of technological innovation. If you are interested in industry development, you will discover the underlying trends hidden behind the scenes. And if you simply enjoy history, you will learn about the role microchips have played in the development of society.





Part One: Birth

Chapter 1: The Uncertain World: From Light Bulbs to Semiconductors
The Darkening Bulb: The Invention of the Vacuum Tube
Desperate Actions: The Quantum Shift
A Daring Leap: The Miracle of Semiconductors

Chapter 2: Creative Failures: The Birth of Transistors
Radar on Alert: Accelerating Semiconductor Research
A Collaborative Effort: Bardeen and Brattain’s Invention of the Point Contact Transistor
A Counterstrike: Shockley’s Invention of the Bipolar Junction Transistor
“We Also Invented the Transistor”: The Battle of Invention

Chapter 3: Continuous Departures: Silicon Diffusion
“Shockley Is Utterly Stupid”: The Faltering Steps of Transistors
Music in Hot Oil: The Emergence of Silicon Transistors
Feeling Like “Talking to God”: Silicon Valley Takes Root
Eight Traitors: Departure from “Fairchild”

Chapter 4:“A Large Scale Idiot”: The Invention of Chips
Provoked Physicists: Hoerni’s Invention of the Planar Transistor
The Silent Giant: Kilby Achieves Monolithic Integration
Covert Warfare: Noyce Proposes Interconnection Solutions
“I Don’t See It Going Far”: The Battle and Abandonment of Chips

Part Two: Evolution

Chapter 5 :Innovators’ Dilemma: MOS Field-Effect Transistors
Insignificant Inventions: Field-Effect Transistors
“We’re the Champions”: Epitaxial Processing
Planned Failures: The Bell Paradox
Bad Ideas Turn Good: The Rise of MOS Field-Effect Transistors

Chapter 6: Surpassing the Past: Moore’s Law
When Moore Met Mead: The Limits of Transistor Sizes
Deduction on a Piece of Paper: Moore’s Law
Unforeseen: Amendments to Moore’s Law
Rescue Efforts: Sustaining Moore’s Law

Chapter 7:Simplifying Complexity: Computing Chips
The Dream of Computing: From Leibniz to Turing
Streamlining: Hofstadter Proposes CPU Architecture
One Does the Work of Ten: Carver Mead Designs CPU Circuits
“The Least Efficient Method”: Freeman Invents FPGAs

Chapter 8:Binding Memories: Memory Chips
Leaky Memory: Dennard Invents Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM)
The Temptation of Cheesecake: Shima and Kang Develop Flash Memory
The Invention of Floating-Gate Transistors
Windowed Chips: Frohman Invents EPROM
Like a Flash: Fujio Masuoka Invents Flash Memory

Part Three: Diversity

Chapter 9: Knowing and Doing: Analog World Chips
Don’t Let the Gold Goblet Be Empty: Widlar Pioneers Analog Chips
Cutting the Telephone Line: Wireless Communication Chips
The One Who Knows Begins: Petersen and MEMS Sensors
The One Who Knows Achieves: The Battle of IGBT Power Devices

Chapter 10: Rapid Electron Flow: Optoelectronic Devices (Part One)
Bell’s Counterattack: The Invention of Semiconductor Solar Cells
Did the Nobel Committee Make a Mistake? The Invention of Image Sensor Chips
Warriors Pursuing “Light”: The Inventions of High-Brightness Infrared LEDs and Semiconductor Lasers

Chapter 11: Lighting Up East and West: Optoelectronic Devices (Part Two)
Strikingly Different: The Invention of Semiconductor Heterojunctions
In the Twilight: The Invention of Blue LEDs

Part Four: Construction

Chapter 12: Overcoming Paradoxes: Chip Design
A $5 Wager: SPICE Circuit Analysis and Simulation Programs
“Toy” Design Methods: Conway and Mead’s VLSI Design Revolution
Describing the Indescribable: The Invention of Hardware Description Languages
Eating Away and Swallowing: The Battle of EDA

Chapter 13: Precision Carving: Chip Manufacturing
Flowing Water Carves Mountains: The Rise of Semiconductor Foundries
Yogurt Pancakes: The Invention of Photolithography
Halting a “Carrier”: Lin Benjian Invents Immersion Lithography
Fish Fin Structure: Hu Zhengming Invents FinFET

Chapter 14: Comprehensive Challenges: More Than Just Chips
Approaching the Limit: The Predicament of Moore’s Law
Meeting Challenges: Three Paths
More Than Just Chips: A World of Interdependence


Afterword: Setting Sail from the End of My Wisdom


Chip Hall of Fame

Development Timeline of Semiconductor Technology




Image Sources



Innovation is a deviation from the mainstream, a disruption of existing rules. It can initially be clumsy and struggle to integrate into the mainstream. Almost no major innovation is widely welcomed from the outset. Despite people often advocating for innovation, what they truly prefer is improvement, which yields immediate effects and is thus more readily embraced. (Preface)

The pioneering efforts of these chips were coldly received, even abandoned. Their inventors couldn’t get published, had their funding cut off, saw their projects axed, and were forced to leave… They were not a group of poetic scientists, but rather a group of disillusioned ones, paying the price for it for ten years or even a lifetime. (Preface)

When they pushed open the large doors, billions of glistening snowflakes fell before them. Each snowflake was a hexagonal crystal, tightly enveloping and covering the square building. Inside one laboratory lay a solitary transistor with an internal tetrahedral crystal cell. Standing at the doorway, several people surely couldn’t have imagined that several years later, this ratio would be reversed — the number of transistors produced by humanity in a year would far exceed the number of snowflakes falling on this land. (Chapter Two)

On January 23rd, Noyce could finally take the time to ponder this question. On that day, he felt that all the fragments that had previously crossed his mind suddenly came together, forming a complete idea. Noyce quickly recorded it in his notebook with a pen to keep up with his rapidly emerging thoughts: in many applications, multiple components can be integrated onto a single silicon chip as part of the manufacturing process to reduce the size, weight, and cost of each active device. (Chapter Four)

Imagine there are some piles of sand on an open field. A white sand pile represents 1, and a yellow sand pile represents 0. Each calculation is equivalent to moving a white or yellow sand pile. It can be observed that reducing the volume of the sand pile by half does not affect the expression and calculation of 1 and 0. Not only does this halve the energy consumption and double the speed of movement, but it also allows more sand piles to be placed on the same area of land, completing more calculations. (Chapter Seven)

A poisoned apple took away an independent soul, while Turing’s simplification of complexity left the warmth of the times, enough to keep this planet with billions of Turing machines running in embarrassment… (Chapter Seven)

In 1958, at a meeting of the Electronic Devices Group of the Institute of Radio Engineers in Washington, D.C., Lettpro and Nall published an article where they coined a new term: “photolithography.” However, technically it should have been called “photo-corrosion,” but Nall thought “photolithography” sounded more “high-tech,” so the industry went along with the mistake and has been calling it that ever since. (Chapter Thirteen)

In 2017, ASML began delivering EUV lithography machines to customers. Each machine’s components required four Boeing 747 aircraft to transport. Upon arrival at the wafer fab, there were hundreds of engineers ready to install and debug. The lithography machine occupies approximately 80 square meters, with the laser part taking up 20 square meters. The entire machine resembles an iceberg because a large number of pipes and cables are buried 10 meters underground before emerging above ground. (Chapter Fourteen)


“MOS field-effect transistors, who invented them?” Once, during a dinner gathering with graduate students in microelectronics, in the midst of lively conversation and with a bit of wine, I casually asked.

To me, this question seemed like basic common knowledge for students in the field of microelectronics, as nowadays 99% of transistors in chips are MOS field-effect transistors. It’s understandable for laypeople not to know, but among students majoring in microelectronics, the answer should have come easily.

However, as soon as I posed the question, the lively atmosphere at the table suddenly quieted down, and no one responded. After a few seconds of silence, I redirected the conversation to the historical background of MOS field-effect transistors, and then recounted their invention process. Finally, as I spoke about the inventor’s unfortunate experiences of facing suppression from the company, being denied publication of papers, having projects scrapped, and ultimately being forced to leave, the students looked surprised, as it was quite different from what they had imagined.

Seeing the students still intrigued, I took the opportunity to share a few other examples of chip inventions, including the central processing unit (CPU), blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), and others.

In conclusion, I pointed out that all these inventions shared a commonality — despite being significant original innovations, they faced skepticism and resistance from the industry when they first emerged, almost leading to their demise.

Moreover, these are not isolated cases; major inventions like floating-gate transistors, heterojunctions, insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), immersion lithography, and others also faced resistance. Yet today, these technologies, which were almost abandoned, are helping people surf the internet, store digital photos, play videos, drive electric cars, receive protection from airbags during collisions, detect nucleic acid sequences, and illuminate the night…

Why were these inventions initially met with disdain? The development of chips relies on continuous innovation and surpassing, but the greater the innovation, the greater the rebellion and subversion against tradition, thus facing more resistance from traditional forces.

Consider two examples. Fairchild Semiconductor was one of the companies behind the invention of integrated circuits, yet in 1960, the vice president of the company shouted at Jay Last, the head of the chip project: “Why are you messing around with integrated circuits? This thing wasted a whole million dollars of the company’s money and yielded no returns; it must be shut down!” Bell Labs was a research stronghold for semiconductor technology, but in 1963, the head of the semiconductor research department at Bell Labs, Ian Ross, wrote that integrated circuits did not address the fundamental issues facing the semiconductor industry; they “only treat symptoms, not root causes.”

The pioneering efforts of these chips were coldly received, even abandoned. Their inventors couldn’t get published, had their funding cut off, saw their projects axed, and were forced to leave… They were not a group of poetic scientists, but rather a group of disillusioned ones, paying the price for it for ten years or even a lifetime.

The history of chips is a history of innovation and rebellion. This is also the theme that this book wants to convey. Innovation is a deviation from the mainstream, a disruption of existing rules. It can initially be clumsy and struggle to integrate into the mainstream. Almost no major innovation is widely welcomed from the outset. Despite people often advocating for innovation, what they truly prefer is improvement, which yields immediate effects and is thus more readily embraced.

Today, the importance of chips goes without saying, and everyone has had firsthand experience from a series of chip crises in recent years. To address chip crises, we need original innovation, and the only way is through sincerity, facing reality and history truthfully.

This book provides a complete account of the invention and development of chips, especially how a group of rebellious individuals broke through tradition and continuously innovated.

The history of chips is only over 60 years old, but to fully understand the ins and outs of chips, we need to go back over 100 years. In this century-plus, there have been countless stories of semiconductor technology innovation, but fundamentally, it’s just an ongoing and repeating pattern of innovation, still centered around rebellion.

The book starts from the beginning of semiconductors, quantum mechanics, which evolved into semiconductor physics, which then gave birth to semiconductor devices. These devices, from simple to complex, like a budding seed, evolved into bipolar transistors, MOS field-effect transistors, photodiodes, and integrated constructs like analog chips (communication and sensor chips), digital chips (CPUs, memories, field-programmable gate arrays), and optoelectronic chips. Finally, the book also shows the development process of chip design and manufacturing methods from manual to automated, pointing out the challenges and possible solutions facing chips in the future.

For innovation, people need to constantly break the accumulated knowledge and insights of the past and continuously innovate with new knowledge and insights. Therefore, this book does not intend to systematically explain inherent knowledge but rather tells the vivid process of how chips were created.

The readers of this book can be anyone interested in chips. If you are a researcher, you will recognize the context of semiconductor technology development and see the patterns and rules of technological innovation. If you are interested in industry development, you will discover the hidden industry development rules behind this book. If you are simply interested in history, you can learn about the role of chips in the development of social history.

Innovation in chips can occur at various levels. For example, at the microstructure level, new devices subvert old ones; at the chip level, new chip architectures break through the bottlenecks of the original design; in terms of business models, intellectual property licensing models make chip design more flexible, making self-developed chips possible; in the organizational form of the semiconductor industry, the emergence of chip foundries has broken the vertical integration manufacturing model and spawned fabless chip companies like Apple, Qualcomm, and Huawei HiSilicon. This book demonstrates this multi-level innovation trend.

At the beginning of the dinner conversation mentioned at the beginning of this text, I didn’t blame my students for not remembering these inventors. In fact, the names of these inventors have been deliberately or inadvertently ignored by history, and today’s history needs to make appropriate reparations to them. If we can rediscover the core spirit of these pioneers from the dust of history — non-conformity, fearlessness, drawing strength from denial — then we will always be with the souls of these pioneers.

After the dinner, a student said it was a great conversation. But what was talked about that day was only a small part, and what you are reading now is the complete story.

Next, let’s embark on this journey of chips together.

  • Book title:《A Brief History of Chips》

  • Author:Bo Wang

  • Date:April 2023

  • Published by Cheers Publishing / Zhejiang Education Publisher

  • ISBN:9787572254758