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Integrated circuit engineering is the design of semiconductor chips used in electronic equipment. These chips include large numbers of transistors embedded with complex fine wiring to connect them. Their complexity generally increases over time, enabling the development of more advanced electronic equipment at lower cost. Engineers who work on such systems can be involved in a number of different steps of the process and may work in academia, government agencies, or private companies with an interest in chips.
Part of integrated circuit engineering involves physical and chemical processes. Engineers who focus on this area of the field look at how to physically construct chips and ways to improve existing production methods. They consider new materials, environmental controls to limit contamination, and ways to assemble components for efficiency. Some look specifically at ecological concerns and ways to develop chips and related products with a lower environmental cost.
Another aspect of the field involves the actual design of chips. The transistors and attached wiring need to be laid out in logical circuitry, which requires an understanding of electronics and chip design. Integrated circuit engineering can require familiarity with the kinds of systems the equipment is likely to be used in, to ensure that chips are laid out appropriately. Designers may also think about new ways to add transistors to chips in an effort to improve their performance and meet the demand for chips capable of more complex tasks.
Computers, cell phones, and numerous other electronic systems have integrated circuits at their core. These circuits are increasingly small and powerful, requiring integrated circuit engineering to consider nanoscale design needs. The array of transistors and wiring may be too small to see with the naked eye or low magnification, requiring work with microscopes and other advanced tools to lay out and test chips. Developments in the field also force integrated circuit engineers to keep up with ongoing research and professional development opportunities in order to serve their employers most effectively.
Education programs in integrated circuit engineering are available through colleges and universities, particularly those with electrical and computer engineering programs. Some incorporate a mixture of academics and people working in industry to provide students with information about the current state of the field and projected future developments. This can help people develop well-rounded skills they can apply to the workplace after graduation as they start designing chips or participating in the development of new processes for manufacturing.