A Scion Of Jeri Ellsworth
If you haven’t already heard of 22 year old Sam Zeloof, who was interviewed last Friday by Wired, he is now famous for the hand fabrication of a 1200 transistor semiconductor chip, which he created in his garage. Doing so did require a bit of luck as well as skill, as there are some equipment requirements you can’t really find workarounds for. The biggest hurdle is an electron microscope for examining the features of his transistors. A good friend found a broken one and with $1000, a fair amount of know how and a lot of time they were able to repair it to working condition. As for the photolithography device? The light from a conference room projector is beamed through a microscope to trigger the light sensitive coating on his wafers
Some might be wondering how he managed to turn his garage into a clean room and the answer is simple, he didn’t. The original transistors developed at Bell Labs in 1947 and later Fairchild Semiconductor were created on workbenches, with clean rooms coming much later. The Z1 chip that propelled him to internet fame uses transistors with features as small as 175 microns, and is capable of flashing a single LED and a can control a guitar distortion pedal. That last is a hint as to the three bears etched onto his chips; it seems Sam is a bit of a Dead Head.
This could be a bit of a race for improving the chip fabrication capabilities of the US. While Intel has a lot more money, it also has a long history of difficulties living up to the promises they make to the American government, meanwhile Sam Zeloof has already built his fab and his process technology is shrinking at a much higher pace than Intel’s.
Garage-built chips aren't about to power your PlayStation, but Zeloof says his unusual hobby has convinced him that society would benefit from chipmaking being more accessible to inventors without multimillion-dollar budgets. "That really high barrier to entry will make you super risk-averse, and that's bad for innovation," Zeloof says.