Electronics enthusiasts like being able to make things themselves. In IEEE Spectrum’s Hands On column, we’ve detailed how readers can make their own solder reflow ovens, conductive ink, and synthetic aperture radars. But making DIY integrated circuits seemed impossibly out of reach. After all, building a modern fab is astronomically expensive: For example, in 2017 Intel announced it was investing US $7 billion to complete a facility for making chips with 7-nanometer-scale features. But Sam Zeloof was not deterred. This 17-year-old high school student has started making chips in his garage, albeit with technology that’s a few steps back along the curve of Moore’s Law.
Zeloof says he has been working on his garage fab, located in his home near Flemington, N.J., for about a year. He began thinking about how to make chips as his “way of trying to learn what’s going on inside semiconductors and transistors. I started reading old books and old patents because the newer books explain processes that require very expensive equipment.”
A key moment came when Zeloof found Jeri Ellsworth’s YouTube channel, where she demonstrated how she had made some home-brew silicon transistors a few years ago. “After I saw [Ellsworth’s] videos I started to make a plan of how I could actually start to do this.”