Molecular Expressions: Images From The Microscope
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Ever wonder what's lurking within the dark corners, nooks and crannies of your computer? Is some gremlin responsible for all those crashes---you know, the ones that happen when you are trying to save that critical document you've been working on so diligently for the past three hours? We wondered too, so we took a look to see what we could find. And guess what? When we put the computer chips under the microscope we found some very interesting creatures hiding there.

Our search has led to a new collection of photomicrographs (photographs taken through a microscope) featuring many of the interesting silicon creatures and other doodling scribbled onto integrated circuits by engineers when they were designing computer chip masks. The tiny creatures are far too small to be seen with the naked eye, so we have provided high-magnification photomicrographs to share these mysterious wonders with our visitors. Engineers designing modern computer chips have a very rich sense of humor as you will discover when you visit our Silicon Creatures Gallery that we keep corralled in the Silicon Zoo. We hope you enjoy your adventure!

Size DOES Matter - No matter what the rules may be throughout other domains, in the Silicon Zoo, size does matter! How big or small Waldo and all of the other silicon creatures are is often a very good indication of the technological proficiency, power, and speed of the computer chip into which they are stashed. And, as far as electronics is concerned, smaller usually means better.

Technical Details - Read a discussion of the major aspects involved and techniques employed in searching for silicon "doodling" by chip designers.

Building A Silicon Seascape - Discover how creatures are created on computer chips with this interactive Java tutorial.

Building A Silicon Yin Yang - Explore this unique method of producing silicon creatures devised by Hewlett-Packard's CPU design team in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Microscopy of the Silicon Zoo - Ride along with us as we explore how varying the polarizer angle in DIC microscopy allows photography of Silicon Zoo creatures in a variety of textures and colors.

Silicon Artwork Under Various Illumination Conditions - Examine how silicon artwork appears as a function of varying contrast enhancing techniques and increasing magnification with this interactive Java tutorial. Toggle between brightfield, darkfield, and differential interference contrast illumination to compare and contrast digital images of creatures appearing in the Silicon Zoo.

Silicon Zoo Screen Savers - Download our Silicon Zoo screen savers for Windows now! We have versions featuring 20, 40, 60, or over 80 creatures sized just right for your download connection, whether it is a 14.4K modem or fast T3 Ethernet connection.

Silicon Zoo Wallpaper is now available for both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Download your favorite zoo images in pre-tiled wallpaper format for your computer desktop.

We have constructed an interactive Java tutorial that allows our visitors to experience the search for silicon creatures on the surface of a computer chip. Use the link in the dialogue box below to navigate to this tutorial. We are in perpetual search of additional integrated circuits that may contain residual scribbling left by chip designers. If you know of any, please email us with the pertinent information.

A Dog's Life - We managed to capture a photograph of what are now perhaps the tiniest Martians on Mars. Appearing as an opposed duet of helmeted gladiators, these angry silicon soldiers were discovered on the surface of an image sensor used by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers sent to probe the Red planet.

Air Force One - Check out this miniature silicon rendition of the original Wright brothers biplane.

Big Mac Attack - An ancient medieval sword, used to protect chips against their enemies, was found on the PowerPC 750 (Mac G3).

This Bird's For You - A very interesting hummingbird discovered on a Hewlett-Packard 7100LC PA-RISC chip.

The Buffalo Chip - We have located a small herd of buffalo on a Hewlett-Packard math chip.

More Buffalo Chips - Designed using the buffalo nickel, this buffalo is laying "chips" with each new revision.

Bunny, Playboy (in Silicon) - One of America's favorite icons, the Playboy bunny, was discovered on an integrated circuit made in Germany by Siemens.

R4000 California License Plate - MIPS chip designers have a tendency to place California license plates on their chips. This plate was found on a MIPS (Silicon Graphics) 4000 microprocessor in revision A.

R4400 California License Plate - Found on a MIPS (Silicon Graphics) 4400 microprocessor used to power the WEBForce servers in the mid-1990s.

R10000 California License Plate - A later revision of the plate that we uncovered on a MIPS (Silicon Graphics) R10000 microprocessor.

R12000 California License Plate - The latest revision of the license plate that was found on early silicon from the Silicon Graphics' MIPS R12000 microprocessor.

The Canine (K9) Chip - This small doggie and his fire hydrant arose out of a squabble about chip art by two designers.

Can-O-Worms - The can of worms illustrated in this section is the creation of designer Greg Rohde, who placed the doodle on the Lattice Semiconductor Corporation's popular ispPAC30 integrated circuit to symbolize the numerous problems encountered during the design.

Caterpillar Bulldozer - A miniature bulldozer can be found on an Electronic Monitoring Systems chip contained in Caterpillar heavy construction equipment.

The Cheetah - We spotted this cheetah sprinting across the surface of a Hewlett-Packard memory controller chip.

The Chip Smurf - An orange silicon Smurf is pulling a wagon containing the copyright symbol around the pad ring on a Siemens integrated circuit of unknown function.

The Con Artist - We found this guy in a trench coat trying to hock some fake Rolex watches (that are probably "hot") on a Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC microprocessor.

The Crayon - A giant (1.5 millimeter) crayon was located on a Hewlett-Packard support chip.

Cyrix 5x86 Chili Pepper - We discovered this chili pepper mixed into the integrated circuitry (we guess to make it "hot") on the Cyrix 5x86 microprocessor.

Daffy Duck - An unusual wireframe model of the famous Warner Brothers character etched into silicon.

Diet Slice - Silicon fruit juice was not what we expected to find during routine examination of this Hewlett-Packard integrated circuit.

Digital Kiwei - This silicon kiwi (complete with a necktie, sunglasses, and a hat) was spotted in the pad ring of a Digital VAX Rigel math coprocessor.

Dilbert - We caught the frustrated engineer hiding deep within the circuitry of a very hot microprocessor.

Fine Print - The legal mumbo-jumbo is getting pretty ridiculous when manufacturers start putting warranty disclaimers only a few microns high on the surface of chips.

Doodles of a Lesser Fab - This gallery is reserved for silicon artwork that is simpler in design than that appearing in the main Silicon Zoo gallery.

Dogbert - A rather large silicon version of the Scott Adams' Patron Saint of Technology.

The Dream - Digital engineers thought they had an ace up their sleeve when they presented this inside straight.

The Elephant Bit - We encountered a miniature silicon elephant wearing a superman cape with the letter "B" on a MIPS memory chip.

Ancient Egyptian God Anubis - The Jackal-headed Egyptian god who oversaw embalming and mummification was discovered guarding mask alignment targets.

Fast Math Path - A miniature silicon hummingbird is hovering around some flowers on this BIT math coprocessor integrated circuit.

Fi Fi la Femme - We bumped into this silicon seductress in a dark corner on a Hewlett-Packard memory chip.

Flags and Maps - This corner of the Zoo contains the many flags and maps that we have found on integrated circuits.

The Full Adder - This cute little snake was found lurking within the pad ring of a Hewlett-Packard math coprocessor.

The Half Adder - A first cousin to the Full Adder, this snake got cut in half.

Godzilla - This mythical Japanese creature was discovered lurking on a pad within the Silicon Graphics MIPS R10000 microprocessor (this chip is sure crowded with silicon creatures).

Good Die Fuse - Chip blow a fuse? We didn't even suspect that integrated circuits have fuses, but take a look at this photomicrograph.

The Great Silicon Pyramid - Strongly resembling the pyramid found on the reverse side of a United States dollar bill, this silicon artwork may symbolize a new world order in chip design.

Groucho - The most famous Marx brother is still smoking that cigar, and he doesn't seem to have trimmed his eyebrows or hair.

Guitar-Strumming Tyrannosaurus Rex - This jukin' dinosaur was found next to the mask design credits on the Silicon Graphics MIPS R12000 microprocessor.

Chip Heraldry - A coat of arms found on a Hewlett-Packard CPU-support chip may indicate the royal nature of this integrated circuit.

Hewlett-Packard Abacus - A Hewlett-Packard design team headed by Howard Hilton in Lake Stevens, Washington was responsible for placing what is perhaps the World's smallest abacus on a wide dynamic range analog-to-digital converter integrated circuit.

Hooters - This mother and baby owl were spotted nesting on a tree branch on a Philips integrated circuit.

Hydrolycus - Encircling a silicon rendition of the predatory South American Payara sport fish on a Hewlett-Packard microprocessor is the text "Ne lacessite Hydrolycus", which loosely translates to "Do not aggravate Hydrolycus" or even more loosely to "Don't Mess With Payara".

IBM Eagle - Eagles seldom nest on computer chips, but we spotted this bird cruising around an ancient IBM RAM chip.

Jumping Canine - This puppy was so thrilled that the mask design was finally turned into silicon that he did a somersault.

Kestrel (Sparrow Hawk) - A beautiful silicon rendition of the American kestrel, drawn by Lynn Mahnke, was incorporated into a Hewlett-Packard numerically-controlled oscillator/mixer integrated circuit.

Lassie - This miniature rendition of the famous Collie was discovered on a Hewlett-Packard support chip.

The Aspen Leaf - We stumbled across this silicon Aspen leaf on a Hewlett-Packard digital oscilloscope integrated circuit.

The Little Flower - We found this little flower on the MIPS R4000 microprocessor. The initials inscribed near the flower lead us to believe that the flower was for someone special.

Logos Cast in Silicon - Many chip makers attach their logos to the masks used in fabrication. This corner of the Silicon Zoo contains the logos that we have found on chips.

Lunar Lander - We discovered this silicon version of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) on a Texas Instruments Schottky logic circuit.

Ma Bell - This touch-tone telephone was found in the pad ring of an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) integrated circuit.

Maroon Bells - We have finally found a wilderness landscape tucked inside a computer chip.

Marathon Sneaker - Dirty sneakers are always stinking up the place. We found this one on a Hewlett-Packard RAMDAC graphics support chip.

Mask Alignment Errors - Errors that may occur during chip fabrication are numerous, but one of the most serious is mask misalignment. This improperly aligned Wright brothers airplane is an extreme example.

Medieval Castle - A slick little rendition of an ancient medieval castle was discovered on a Philips integrated circuit.

Mickey Mouse - Ever had a Mickey Mouse watch? Well, we found a unique reminder of these novelties on the Mostek 5017 alarm clock chip.

Milhouse Van Houten - Simpson's cartoon character Milhouse was spotted on a Silicon Image Sil154CT64 digital transmitter integrated circuit.

Mr. T - We know the A-Team is hiding out somewhere in the Los Angeles underground, but Mr. T has taken it to an extreme by shrinking himself and disappearing into an integrated circuit.

Musical Windmills - This windmill was spotted on a Music Semiconductors high-performance local area network content-addressable memory chip.

The Mustang - We discovered this wild renegade horse stampeding across a Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC microprocessor.

National Semiconductor Gator - The most beautiful alligator we have ever seen is hiding within the swamps of this gate array logic chip.

National Semiconductor Lion - National Semiconductor chip designers must have a thing for dangerous wild animals. We have added this silicon lion to accompany the National Semiconductor Gator.

Nikki, the Chow Chow - A wireframe Chow Chow dog named Nikki that we found on the Silicon Graphics MIPS R4000 microprocessor. This graphic image was placed on the chip by Nikki's owner, chip designer Larry Johnson.

Oberon: Scourge of the Atlantic - This ominous-looking skull with a jester's hat was discovered on an IBM-Siemens 64 Mbit DRAM integrated circuit.

Flying Osprey - A Hewlett-Packard design team headed by Howard Hilton in Lake Stevens, Washington was responsible for placing what is perhaps the World's smallest rendition of an osprey on a decimation filter integrated circuit utilized in signal analyzer instruments.

Pac-Man - A silicon version of the famous game character was photographed gobbling the initials GAAS (gallium arsenide) on a TEMIC Semiconductors silicon-germanium radio frequency integrated circuit.

The Pepsi Generation - Perhaps the smallest soft drink advertisement ever created, this 750 micron Pepsi commercial was discovered on a Hewlett-Packard CPU-support chip.

A Piñata Named Asammi - We hammered this silicon equivalent of papier-mâché after it was caught hanging from an Allen-Bradley integrated circuit during a fiesta.

The Pit Viper - We lucked out and found this pit viper (before it found us) slithering around on a Hewlett-Packard memory controller chip.

The Road Runner - This version of the Road Runner was caught running around on a Hewlett-Packard combinatorial multiplier chip, but we couldn't find Wile E. Coyote chasing him.

The Rolex - An intricate bitmap-like pattern of vias (interconnect shafts) was used to construct this incredible likeness of a Rolex wristwatch.

Runaway Train - This miniature choo-choo was discovered rolling down a shift register on a LeCroy MVV 200 integrated circuit.

"The Little Engine That Could" - Another locomotive was spotted, but this time riding the bus lines on an Allen-Bradley/VLSI standalone ASIC chip.

Saab 900 Turbo 16 Cabriolet - This sporty convertible was found in an empty parking lot on a Hewlett-Packard integrated circuit.

Smoke N' Glasses (The Groucho Mask) - This character wearing glasses and smoking a cigar was found lurking around on the Weitek P-9000 graphics chip impersonating Groucho Marx.

Sonic the Hedgehog - We captured this star of Sega Genesis games hiding out between two buses on an Analog Devices digital signal processor.

Spaced Invader - Our microscopists stumbled across this unusual doodle while examining a rather old memory integrated circuit made in East Germany during the Cold War.

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man - Coming to you from "GhostBusters", the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was cooked in a frying pan within the circuitry of a Weitek math coprocessor designed in 1988.

The Sailboat - This simple rendition of a sailboat is the oldest silicon artwork in the gallery.

Sharc Attack - We caught this sharc swimming on an Analog Devices digital signal processor.

The Shepherd - Intel engineers placed this shepherd on a dual-ported RAM controller chip, presumably to watch over a two-headed ram that is nearby.

Silicon Scissors - Need to do some clipping? We spotted a pair of snippers on this Evans & Sutherland graphics chip.

Silicon Roadster - Convertibles always thrill us. That's why we are fascinated by this tiny rendition of a Lotus Seven roadster.

Silicon Scriptures - This corner of the Silicon Zoo contains designers' names and initials, messages, declarations, and other scribbles that we have found on computer chips.

The Slide Trombone - This rockin' horn was discovered nested in the pad ring of a Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) integrated circuit.

Snoopy - The silicon version of Snoopy illustrated in this section was discovered by Richard Piotter of New Ulm, Minnesota, who also loaned the 4-inch wafer (made by a 1980s-era semiconductor company named Trilogy) from which the image is derived.

The Space Shuttle - We discovered this silicon space shuttle orbiting a Texas Instruments Schottky Logic integrated circuit.

The Sperm Whale - Straight out of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", the Sperm Whale that slammed into the planet Magrathea was discovered swimming around on an Allen-Bradley/Rockwell node adapter integrated circuit.

Sport Model Tyrannosaurus rex - The microprocessor in the Digital Equipment Corporation Rigel chipset contained a Tyrannosaurus rex driving a convertible sports car, which was intended as a pun on the then-current competitive marketing campaign to brand VAX and other CISC (complex instruction-set computer) chips as dinosaurs.

Starship USS Enterprise - Another Texas Instruments Schottky Logic circuit contains this 125-micron version of the famous Star Trek icon.

Stork Cuda - Nested within the complex circuitry of a Motorola 68HC05PG microcontroller sits a silicon stork carrying a new baby. The chip housing the stork is known as a cuda integrated circuit, and was recovered from an Apple motherboard.

The Sundial - The Hewlett-Packard PA-7300LC microprocessor has a sundial representing the state-of-the-art clock circuitry on this chip.

Supersonicous Siliconous - This speedy roadrunner almost crashed into us when we were trying to photograph a MIPS-core RISC microprocessor.

Tasmanian Devil - We were lucky enough to get a shot of this character spinning around an Analog Devices digital signal processor.

Texas Instruments Biplane - Another entry in the distinguished collection of air and space vehicles from Texas Instruments chip designers.

Thor: God of Thunder - Probably the best silicon artwork we have yet seen, this image was discovered on a Hewlett-Packard graphics chip.

Tux, the Linux Penguin - Tux is nesting within the pad ring on an integrated circuit of unknown function (perhaps the latest new microprocessor designed to run the Linux operating system).

USS Silicon Seawolf - We spied this submarine firing missiles from the corner of a SGS-Thomson integrated circuit.

Velociraptor - This very life-like rendition of the famous dinosaur appears on one of the Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC 7000 series microprocessors.

Where's Waldo? - Ever had trouble finding Waldo in the comic strips? Try finding him on a computer chip if you really want to scramble your eyeballs.

We've Got Roaches - If living in Florida wasn't bad enough, now we've found silicon roaches crawling around on computer chips.

The Bird is the Word - We found this awesome Thunderbird on the Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC 7100 microprocessor.

The Wedding Announcement - One of the most unusual things that we have found on integrated circuits is this wedding announcement. Check it out!

World's Tiniest Concorde - This miniature rendition of the world-famous Concorde jetliner was discovered in a holding pattern near the pad ring on an Advanced Micro Devices MACH445-12YC programmable logic device (integrated circuit). Measuring about 100 microns from nose to tail, this silicon doodle is no doubt the smallest version of the plane made to date.

The Silicon Sunset - This beautiful sunset was discovered on a chip built to military specifications for use in submarines.

The Last Call - The signal for "Last Call" is given on this early version of Digital Equipment's Alpha microprocessor.

We hope you have enjoyed your visit to the Silicon Zoo. It is important to remember, while examining the silicon doodling on these pages, that the real artwork on these chips is the complex, yet beautiful designs of integrated circuitry carefully composed by some of the world's greatest artists, the chip designers.

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