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Video and notes for Art of Invention 2010-03-16 – History of Electronics

This post is a home for my notes and video links for a class I am co-teaching/assisting with today at AFE in Santa Cruz.  The class is Art of Invention for kids in the age range of 8 to 11 (3rd to 5th grade), and last week was the first part of the electronics section.  I did a very quick presentation of the history of electronics that covered up to about 1950, which I am going to finish cleaning up and will post here.  Then we spent two hours taking apart old computers, monitors, cell phones, laptops, calculators, etc.  This week I am going to skip the presentation slide and do a blog post with my notes and links to the videos we’re showing today.  That class session was very cool, I’ll be certain to give it a write-up of its own.


Today’s plan

  • 1950s to the present.
  • Work on timelines.
  • Build a circuit with a lightbulb.
  • Break
  • Construct electronic-parts art & play Dr. Frankenstein with components.


We’ll watch these to start:

These are videos that were interesting but were too long for class time:


Notes and timeline

Timeline drawn from The Silicon Engine – A Timeline of Semiconductors in Computers.

The 1950s and 1960s were the birthplace and time for modern electronics.  Much of what we use today is directly built on ideas and technologies developed in those decades.  In some cases, all we have
done is make them smaller and more powerful.

  • 1946 – ENIAC Vacuum tube or valve computer – first digital computer.
  • 1947 – first solid-state semiconductor transistor
    • Because the material can be built with precise control of just how conductive, you can design many types of gates.  Precise flow of electrons is at the heart of computer calculations.
  • 1950s – Age of the Transistor
  • 1952 – first portable electronics were hearing aids and pocket radios that could run on a battery and were relatively small +  expensive.
  • 1953 – first transistorized computers.
  • 1956 – RAMAC first disk drive
  • 1960s – Age of the Integrated Circuit
  • 1961 – silicon beats germanium; most circuits are silicon based since then, leading to integrated circuits (IC) in 1962.  ICs put many small transistors in one chip, which makes it easier to produce lots of them at large scale.
  • 1964 – Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (MOS), which is the dominate manufacturing technology.
  • 1965 – Moore’s law
  • 1965, 1966 – First ROM and RAM.
    • Read-Only Memory (ROM) chips let you store programs and special data in a permanent (non-volatile) way that remains after the power is turned off.  This information is burned (written) to the ROM during manufacturing, although there are tools that can reflash a special kind called EPROM, invented in 1971.
    • Random Access Memory (RAM) chips store information that must be used accessed quickly and change often.  They are made to be read and written by a computer during usage, but the data they store is not-permanent – when the power goes off, it goes away.
  • 1970s+ – Modern Electronics Iterates on 50s and 60s technologies
  • 1974 – first system on a chip (digital watch)

(Updated with more links, videos, and notes.)