The meme making process

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Wed Mar 20 2002 - 14:41:25 GMT

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    Subject: The meme making process
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    How a meme is born, propagated and serves as an attractor for new memes.
    From Technology Review Newsletter.

    While lying on the beach during a vacation on the Spanish coast in 1999,
    physicist Jamal Ramdani had an epiphany. As the sand complied to the
    contours of his body, Ramdani, a researcher at Motorola Labs in Tempe, AZ,
    suddenly envisioned a solution to a puzzle that had perplexed the
    semiconductor industry for 30 years: how to combine cheap silicon with
    high-speed, light-emitting but far more expensive semiconducting materials
    like gallium arsenide, all on a single wafer.
    Because the materials are physically mismatched, layering one on top of the
    other to produce a chip with optimal electronic and optical properties has
    been virtually impossible. It may have been the sand on that Spanish beach,
    which is made of the same mineral from which silicon wafers are derived,
    that provided Ramdani with the pivotal hint. In any case, Ramdani recalls,
    “I came back to Phoenix, borrowed a machine for growing compound
    semiconductors, and in two or three shots, we had gallium arsenide sitting
    on silicon.”

    The benefits of having the functionality of gallium arsenide—particularly
    its abilities to handle wireless communications and emit light—on an
    inexpensive silicon chip were not lost on Motorola executives.
    High-performance chips made out of gallium arsenide and other so-called
    compound semiconductors are widely used in everything from cell phones to
    switches in optical communications networks. At the very least, Ramdani’s
    invention could mean replacing these costly chips with far less expensive
    gallium-arsenide-on-silicon ones. In the two years since Ramdani’s
    breakthrough, Motorola has filed over 300 patents on the technology; last
    fall, the company used Ramdani’s method to build prototype chips for
    boosting signals in cell phones. To commercialize the new material, Motorola
    has started up a wholly owned subsidiary—Thoughtbeam, in Austin,
    TX—promising the new materials will find their way into electronic and
    optical devices within the next two years.

    The impact of Motorola’s chip technology could go far beyond cheaper cell
    phones or optical devices. Today, if you want a fast, inexpensive
    microprocessor, you need a silicon chip; if you want a chip to handle
    optical functions or high-frequency radio signals, you need compound
    semiconductors like gallium arsenide or indium phosphide. As a result,
    equipment like cell phones and communications network switches requires
    multiple semiconductor devices. Eventually, predict some experts, the
    Motorola technology could make it possible to integrate the functions of
    gallium arsenide and silicon on a single chip, using each of the materials
    for what it does best. The result would be a superchip. Instead of having
    multiple chips in a DVD player doing different tasks—generating light to
    read the disc, fielding input from viewers, decoding digital data into
    images and sound—a single chip could handle it all.

    The semiconductor industry has been dreaming of such a superchip for
    decades—and a number of researchers are actively pursuing that dream. For
    instance, Eugene Fitzgerald, a materials scientist at MIT, has been working
    on the problem for over a decade and has published descriptions of his own
    technique for growing gallium arsenide on silicon. He and many other
    skeptics question whether the Motorola technology will prove to be a grand
    slam. “Every few years, there is a so-called solution, but upon closer
    examination, you see that it isn’t one at all,” says Fitzgerald.

    Others, however, are so impressed with the potential of Ramdani’s
    breakthrough that they believe the technology could fundamentally change the
    dynamics of the chip-making business, finally bridging the materials divide
    between silicon and compound semiconductors that has become a fundamental
    fact in the industry. According to Steve Cullen, director and principal
    analyst of semiconductor research services at Cahners In-Stat Group, the
    Motorola advance could “go down in history as a major turning point for the
    semiconductor industry.”


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