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Computers operate by Boolean logic, invented by the 19th century English mathematician George Boole. Everything is done with base 2, so there are only the numerals one and zero, or true and false. The three basic operations are invert (the output is the opposite of the input), AND (true only if all inputs are true), and OR (true if any input is true). It’s possible to express any arithmetic function in terms of Boolean logic, and to translate back and forth from base two to base ten. From the biggest computer to the smallest calculator, this is what’s happening behind the scenes.
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Transistors are formed by diffusing different dopants into silicon in specific patterns. Circuits are formed by connecting transistors to one another with wires. Integrated circuits are single pieces of silicon having many transistors with networks of aluminum or copper traces acting as wires to connect them. The transistors and wires are formed by laying down patterns of different substances, layer upon layer. Read the rest of this entry »

A transistor is often described as a switch, but this is only partially true. It’s more like a valve or a faucet. If your faucet has only two choices, “on” and “off,” then it behaves as a switch, but most faucets have a range in the middle, and so do most transistors. If the range in the middle is used, we say the transistor circuit is analog. If all that’s used is “on” and “off” then it’s digital. Read the rest of this entry »

Silicon is an element, like oxygen or gold. It is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (after oxygen and ahead of aluminum). Things like sand and rocks are largely silicon dioxide. “Silicone” is rubber; silicon and silicone are not the same thing at all. Read the rest of this entry »