How did the word “microelectronics” come about and how appropriate is it?


I constantly find myself thinking that the technological norm today is measured in nanometers, but the industry is called microelectronics in the old fashioned way, which is not true from a formal point of view. In the SI measurement system, the prefix “micro” means 10 to the minus sixth power, while the prefix “nano” differs by three decimal places, that is, it is ten to the minus ninth power. On the other hand, at the time of the birth of microelectronics, it also reflected the aspirations of the future, but did not emphasize the achievements of that time. Having turned on the bore mode, I don’t want to find fault with the dimensions of units, I’m curious to look at the formation of the word “microelectronics” in the context of the era.

The development of electronics began in the first half of the 20th century; vacuum tubes became the main component of all devices of that time. The first diode of this kind appeared in 1904. In the photo you can see electronic tubes that were produced in different years in the USSR.

Source: Authorship: engineer Pavel Serkov. Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

After the Second World War, electronics took off, miniaturization became the main direction of development, known components decreased in size, which affected the dimensions of the devices themselves. Radio receivers are a good example of the new quality of electronics, manufacturers are moving from large and often unbearable models to compact ones. The same radio tubes are reduced in size, which allows you to create portable models. The American company Emerson is one of many who rely on the compactness of devices, in 1953 it releases the Emerson 747 model.

The dimensions of this miniature radio receiver for its time are 155x90x38 mm, weight – 1.1 kilograms. Such a miracle of technology cost $ 40. The REGENCY TR-1 all-transistor receiver appears next year, its dimensions are amazing. The general public saw the TR-1 at an exhibition in Paris, the receiver was created to promote transistors manufactured by Texas Instruments. Some design elements were borrowed from the popular Emerson 747.

Источник: Авторство: Gregory F. Maxwell PGP:0xB0413BFA. Photo by uploader, taken at The History of Audio: The Engineering of Sound, an exhibition of the San Francisco Airport Museums[1] in SFO Airport, Terminal 3 from 2006-09 to 2007-05., GFDL 1.2, wikimedia

The TR-1 measures 127 x 76.2 x 31.75 mm and weighs 340 grams. Differences from Emerson are noticeable, though not amazing, but it was transistors that opened the way to the mass miniaturization of electronics. The radio receiver on transistors became a symbol of the era and received a proper name – “transistor”.

The simplification of electronics required new approaches, integrated circuits (IC) are being created in parallel in the USA, Jack Kilby is working on them at Texas Instruments, in September 1958 he shows his development. The components of the device are located on the board, interconnected by external wires, which makes the design devoid of elegance. In 2000, Kilby received the Nobel Prize for his invention.

Six months later, at Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce creates his own version of an integrated board. It does not have the disadvantages of the Kilby model, all connections are on the board, it is elegant and easy to manufacture.

In the context of the era, the development of electronics looks like a miracle of technological progress, but in the United States and Russia, electronics are also needed for space flights. The Apollo program from 1961 to 1965 is the largest customer for integrated boards, the idea of ​​​​the advantage of such solutions is naturally promoted in the press. A big breakthrough is brewing in electronics when cutting-edge developments become available to the public.

I was not able to trace the emergence of the term “microelectronics”, but it begins to be widely used in the early 60s and is directly related to integrated circuits. It is rather a promise of the future that beckons. A boom begins in which the prefix “micro” takes on a life of its own. In 1964, MOS technology appears, integrated circuits become even smaller – the first pocket calculators appear.

The scope of the use of the prefix “micro” is such that there are enterprises around the world that borrow the buzzword. Let’s take a look at the situation in the USSR, the Metallosita plant, established in 1923 for the production of household appliances, was renamed the Moscow Metallist plant in 1956. In 1964, the plant was renamed again, it became known as “Micromachine”. Household appliances that are produced bear the name of the factory on the case, for example, look at the first electric toothbrush, released in 1968.

An example from the USSR shows how popular the idea of ​​miniaturization has become, the prefix “micro” has spread throughout the world. Hundreds of companies began to appear in whose name it was used, and this fashion persisted for almost two decades. Miniaturization has become synonymous with progress, the smaller devices become, the better.

In 1975, two comrades, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, created their own software writing company, they combined two words – “microcomputer” and “software” (microcomputer-software), the company turned out to be Microsoft. Our ear does not cut the absurdity of the newly formed word, many people think it is familiar from childhood, about the same as Walkman. But this is a legacy of the era of frenzy around the prefix “micro”.

The boom of names has not ended, today in our life there are many terms where this word is used. For example, we can recall micro-enterprises, this, for a second, is the official status that government bodies operate with. And life has absorbed various names, where “micro” means small size. Everyone understands that miniaturization is hidden behind the term.

The scale of change that the 1960s brought to electronics was much more noticeable than the advent of nanotechnology. The fashionable prefix “nano” has not found such a life in the language and phenomena of the surrounding world. Rusnano appeared in Russia, but ended its existence just as ingloriously. Various automotive cleaners with the prefix “nano” gave life to nano-washers (that’s where the irony is in every sense). Nanotechnology has not become the same noticeable phenomenon, language is not as plastic as we might think. Microelectronics will master new technological processes, but it will historically remain the same microelectronics, we will not invest new qualities in this term. A vestige of the past that can last for a very long time, perhaps centuries. Sometimes words describe the past, and here is just such a case. I hope that a short digression into the history of the “micro” prefix and the development of electronics will give you the opportunity to take a different look at many modern words.

Source: — Все о мобильной технике и технологиях by

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