What’s Really Inside Your Computer?

by ML Giggleman

It’s a Zoo in there!

Yes, there really is a zoo inside your computer — Dilbert, Daffy Duck, Lassie, Mickey Mouse, Godzilla, and yes, even Waldo — could all be hiding inside!

This month’s Magazine cover features a shot of Waldo – he was discovered hiding on a microprocessor integrated circuit. Waldo is about 30 microns in size. He was located using a high-powered optical microscope. And you thought finding him in a picture was difficult! Waldo has the distinction of being the first Silicon Creature discovered. His discovery led to more “hunting” and eventually the creation of the Silicon Zoo (you have to corral them someplace!).

The Silicon Zoo consists of photomicrographs — pictures taken under a microscope — of hidden “doodles” drawn on the chips used in computers and other devices. It is called a Zoo because many of the drawings are of animals and cartoon characters. Similar to an Easter Egg hidden within a software program, these pictures were drawn by the design engineers directly on the chip mask of integrated circuits. They are so small they can only be seen through a microscope.

The Silicon Zoo is a part of the Molecular Expressions website, sponsored by the Optical Microscopy Division of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, a joint venture of Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Michael W. Davidson, the Director of the Optical Microscopy Division, is a research scientist involved with microscopy for twenty-five years. His photomicrography images have won numerous awards.

Examples of “Zoo” creatures that could be lurking inside of your PC are:

• The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from a Weitek Math Coprocessor

• A Chili Pepper hidden on a 5x86 chip from Texas-based Cyrix

Okay, okay, technically the chili pepper is not a “creature”, but it is interesting! See the entire Silicon Zoo for yourself at: micro.magnet.fsu.edu/creatures/

After you check out the Zoo, you might want to try hunting for some Silicon Creatures yourself via the Virtual Microscope (more about that later) at: micro.magnet.fsu.edu/ primer/virtual/galleria/siliconzoo.html

In addition to the Zoo, Molecular Expressions has numerous interesting sections. Subtitled “Images From the Microscope”, the entire website is very well organized and easy to maneuver. The main page of the site is located at micro.magnet.fsu.edu. From this page, you have access to all the various sections.

One of these sections is the Galleria, made up of numerous Galleries — theme-based collections of colorful photomicrographs — of which the Silicon Zoo is but one. My favorite (besides the Zoo) is the Chip Shots Gallery, which consists of photomicrographs of the surfaces of integrated circuits. Numerous chips are represented, from AMD, AT&T, Cyrix, HP, IBM, IDT, Intel, NEC, and Sun.

Another interesting section is the Virtual Microscope, mentioned above. It is an interactive, realistic, Java-powered simulation of actually using a real microscope. Then there are the Microscapes, a collection of photographs designed to resemble alien and/or surrealistic landscapes. An example is the “Black Hole in Space”, which stars Vitamin C, Protein, and the Microscope Diaphragm. If these vivid images are not enough, how about an animation? The Movie Gallery contains antimated videos available for download.

If you need a movie player, you can also download QuickTime from this page. There is even a Microscopy Primer if you want additional information about microscopes. The Primer includes a FAQ and a list of web resources.

Also, many of the images from this website are available for download as wallpaper for both PC and MAC.

I would like to thank Dr. Davidson, not only for the excellent and informative website, but also for his generosity in supplying HAL-PC Magazine with the photographs for the cover and article as well as the “Where’s Waldo” concept to tie into this article.

M.L. Giggleman is the Editorial Manager of the Magazine and can be reached at melgig@hal-pc.org.

A Diamond up close and personal.

Not much has escaped Dr. Davidson’s microscope. There are Galleries of vitamins, birthstones, pesticides, trees, even beer and cocktails, to name just a few. The photo to the right is a diamond – my personal favorite — from the Birthstones Gallery.

A Pentium Pro chip from the Chip Shots Gallery.

E-mail me at mfoster@hal-pc.org with any comments you have and tell me what you want to see here.

Back to the Magazine Home Page

Last modified: 1999:03:28

Access Count Since December 17, 1999: 1670