There were countless inventions that have change humanity.
But there are some that have changed the world to unrecognisable scale. Such as
the invention of the wheel, the compass, printing press, combustion engine or
the light bulb. I would like to discuss an invention that has started a new
Era, the Age of Information.
A single invention couldn’t change the world more than the
transistor did. All that you see on any screen, a TV, PC, Laptop, Phone or a
Tablet is all just series of ones and zeroes. Beamed across the entire Planet
the two simplest numbers allow us to communicate and share all the pictures,
videos and text with each other. This single invention has allowed a huge jump
forward for humanity.
Before the transistor existed, vacuum tubes were used. In a
nutshell they are simple glass bulbs that consist of three parts: cathode, grid
and anode. An electrical current is used to heat up the anode and release
electrons. Electrons are attracted to the anode and that completes the current.
The grid is used as a switch. A positive charge allows the electrons to path
through, but a negative charge repels electrons.1 This is the foundation of
binary coding! Here positive voltage is a one and negative is a zero.
The ENIAC, worlds first electronic computer (Electronic Numerical
Integrator and Computer) used 18000 vacuum tubes to perform calculations.
It weighted more than
30 tons and consumed lots of energy.2
Besides weight and size difficulties, vacuum bulbs would also often burn out
and needed to be replaced.
It is hard to imagine a world where a computer would weight
more than a ton and a phone would be as big as a TV. That is why vacuum tubes
were hardly an option for the technology to spread and become available to the
public. That’s where the transistor revolutionized everything. To perform such
calculations as the ENIAC a modern phone needs just one transistor smaller than
a fingernail. An iPhone X, for example, has 4 billion transistors. 3
The main component of a transistor is Silicon. It is used
with Phosphorus and Boron to perform a similar function to what a vacuum bulb
does using the grid. Here Phosphorus creates a negative charge (a zero) and
Boron creates a positive charge (one).
The speed at witch a computer operates depends heavily on
its transistors speed to switch between zeroes and ones. The speed of a
transistor is affected by it’s size, the smaller – the faster. Since the
electrons will have to travel less distance, the operating speed will increase
respectively. Since 1970s the production of transistors has improved immensely,
now microscopic transistors are produced by the thousands on round silicon
transistor chip is an extremely complex process that is generally divided into
two parts: the front end part is specialized to produce the components of the
circuit, while the back end is meant to connect all the components and test the
whole chip. A single transistor on the chip sprung 90 nanometres size. 5
In general, both the vacuum tube and the transistor use
same principals and the idea behind the technology is identical. The triode is
just like an NPN type transistor, that was described above, except that the
first uses more of physics, while the second has more chemistry to it. Where
the grids polarity in the vacuum bulb makes all the difference by controlling
the flow of electrical current, a transistor uses Silicon with doping (P and B)
to do the same – allow or stop the flow of electrons.
Achieve a simple task
like that and here you have it – the technology that is implemented in almost
every electrical device. The transistors are and will keep getting smaller, now
they are just 50 atoms across. According to Moor’s Law, every two years the
number of transistors on a chip should double.6 Sadly, there is a limit to
that, where quantum tunneling will limit their size. In any case humanity is
still far from facing that problem. Until then the transistors
will only improve, become smaller, faster and more efficient. Until then
quantum computer might change the way we live or a new much more unique
technology will begin a new Era of humanities evolution, like the transistor did.