Man makes silicon chips in his garage fab

Originally published at: Man makes silicon chips in his garage fab | Boing Boing


Isn’t there a lot of toxic shit involved in semiconductor fab?


1,000 transistors/chip, that’s large-scale integration (LSI). Impressive.


Very much so. He glosses over it in this quick summary of his process, but there are some very serious acids and solvents involved. This is not for the feint of heart! Sam is a hero though, in the hobby electronics world. It’s amazing what’s he’s doing. His detailed videos are worth watching for all the clever details, like his use of an incubator for a mini clean room and fume hood.


In the video he briefly mentions that the third etching step has to get through a layer of SiO2. This is the worst step because it can require HF (which is very nasty), or CHF3 (which isn’t that toxic, but really shouldn’t be released into the atmosphere)


I would imagine that procuring some of the materials isn’t trivial?


There’s nothing there that you can’t buy from a scientific equipment and chemical supplier. Bring your wallet though, a lot of the gear he uses is not for the budget-conscious.


Besides the etchants, there’s also the dopants (arsenic, notably) and the compounds they have to be in to be useful. My favorites are arsine (AsH3) and phosphene (PH3), which are not only toxic as Hell but also hypergolic in air. Shortly behind, if you’re trying to deposit silica, is silane (SiH4) which is also hypergolic in air but also produces monomolecular silica, which makes your usual miners’ lung disease look benign.

The masking process necessarily requires some solvents that led to several Superfund sites back in the day and an entire generation of birth defects and later cancers such as leukemia. Plus the aforementioned fluorine compounds, which among other things can be unnoticed contact neurotoxins.

And in case anyone cares, I was in the industry in the early 70s and worked around this stuff. Sometimes I’m amazed I survived, but my oncologist suspects that my current leukemia might date back to those days.


It’s the weird suggestions from other shoppers…


You can just buy them from a chemical supply company. They won’t sell to an individual but it’s not that difficult to set up a company and do the necessary paperwork to handle them. There are also chemical waste processing services that will pick up your used chemicals and dispose of them properly – neutralizing acids and bases and incinerating organic solvents.

Handling the chemicals safely is another matter entirely, as is the cost of both the equipment and materials, although if you watch business auctions you can pick up a lot of equipment for pennies on the dollar.


And I was patting myself on the back for putting together a new feral cat house in my garage getting ready for winter. No homemade silicone chips but it does have a flower box on the side.

But my wife was super appreciative. Wink wink nudge nudge.


I wonder what his neighbors think about the unregulated and non-osha compliant toxic chemical lab in the house next door.


It would appear this is not yet the next 3D printing at home. At least not for my basement.


It seems well built and maintained. Certainly no worse than some of the other shit people have going on in their basements or garages. You’d be surprised at some of the things people have. A good friend of mine kept a collection of radioactive samples in his garage.

It’s not like this is at any sort of industrial scale of production or anything.


then it’s off to the homebuilt, maskless photo lithography stepper for exposure

As you do…


I hope he takes the opportunity to name his company Ziloog.


Apple would have been a cooler story if it’d been started by two guys in a garage, who bought chips from another guy in his garage.


My first thought was about reading the Berkeley semi fab class lab manual. It started out with a long chapter on safety in the clean room, explaining that the purpose of the bunny suit is to keep the chips clean, not to protect you from that cyanide and hydrofluoric acid. And that the buddy system was enforced for the above reasons.
This looks like it’s small enough scale (a dozen chips in a batch) to be manageable on the safety end. Still, don’t go in there without knowing exactly what you’re doing and being highly alert.


Looking forward to proofing out materials purity and fab toolchains first in Dwarf Fortress, then printing.


one of my housemates has an old chipfab thing in storage somewhere, or pieces of it, but his plan is certainly not to run it at home but to put it back together and sell it. Apparently there’s quite a market for older machines in good condition, and building/rebuilding such machines is what he does at work - he’s the guy other engineers call in when they can’t figure out what’s wrong and/or how to fix it.