The remarkable success of information and telecommunication technology within the last few decades has been facilitated by the phenomenal growth of the microelectronics technology. While nanotechnology has future prospects, microelectronics has already transformed global competition and commerce. It offers strategic advantages to firms, institutions and nations through its capacity to develop products and services cheaply and efficiently. It is the engine that drives present global commerce and industry.
The world has experienced many new dimensions in knowledge acquisition, creation, dissemination and usage courtesy of this technology. The advancement of Internet and digital photography could all be linked to better performance from microchips. When microelectronics technology advances, a dawn emerges in global economy in speed, efficiency and capacity.
Microelectronics is considered a very revolutionary technology noting the disruptions it has brought to the dynamics of the global economy via its different applications since its invention by Jack Kilby in the late 1950s. Of the gross world product (GWP), estimated (2007) at about $55 trillion (currency) (The Economist, 2008), microelectronics contributes more than 10%. Microelectronics is very pivotal to many emerging industries in the 21st century with a central position in the global economy. Because Internet, medicine, entertainment and many other industries cannot substantially advance without this technology, it has a vantage position in engineering education in many developed nations.
These nations invest heavily in microelectronics education as in the United States, Canada and Western Europe where the MOSIS, CMC and Europractice programs respectively enable students to fabricate and test their integrated circuits for full cycle design and learning experience on integrated circuits. On the other hand, developing nations increasingly lag behind in adopting and diffusing this technology in their economies owing to many factors, which include human capital and infrastructure. Absence of quality technical education has contributed to stall the transfer, diffusion and development of microelectronics in both the emerging and developing economies.
Microelectronics is a group of technologies that integrate multiple devices into a small physical area. The dimension is about 1000 larger than nanotechnology dimension; micrometer vs. nanometer. Usually, these devices are made from semiconductors like silicon and germanium using lithography, a process that involves the transfer of design patterns unto a silicon wafer. There are accompanying processes which include etching, oxidation, diffusion, etc. Several components are available in microelectronic scale such as transistors, capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes, insulators and conductors.
The microelectronics can be divided to its subfields which in turn are connected to other micro related fields. These subfields are micro electromechanical systems (MEMS), nanoelectronics, optoelectronics and single electron devices. Integrated circuits or microchips are typical microelectronic devices, which can be found in computers, mobile phones, medical devices, toys and automobiles. There is a high level of convergence between nanotechnology and microelectronics. The major difference lies in the size of the materials; nonetheless, the techniques are very different.
Complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistor is the most common transistor used in the industry owing to its ease of integration and low static power dissipation. Bipolar junction transistor is another popular version. With the sizes of CMOS transistor in the nanometer range, the behaviors of the transistors are radically affected by parasitic noise and power dissipation. These problems pose potential challenges to the continuous progress of CMOS technology and microelectronics industry in general. The survivability of Moore’s Law, (after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel Corp) which states that the numbers of transistors in a semiconductor die double every 18 to 24 months, is presently challenged if engineers cannot downscale the transistor size any further efficiently.
This scaling has been the driver that has enabled microelectronics products to improve in speed, capacity and cost-efficiency. Many efforts have been geared to overcome the problems faced in the industry as transistors scale into the deep nanometer. They include improving the structure of the metals and polysilicon materials used in making the devices, more enhanced doping profile, new materials to keep the industry alive and well into the future.