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Chip photography – part 0

close-up photo of a microchip in yellow and red tones

It is not a typo that this is part 0 of a series of posts. You can call it the background to what will come.

On 30 August I casually published a photo of a chip to my Instagram feed. I was running out of ideas at that moment, so I thought that I can go brave and show some fairly abstract structure in beautiful colours. It was accepted warmly, which surprised me. I consider myself more of a nature photographer even though I have some still life works, too.

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Here is something completely different for a change – a closeup of a chip die. Silicon chips running nearly every device out there are so beautiful when light shines on the bare die. Reaching to the surface, though, varies between really tricky to utterly impossible. They make them indestructible. The epoxy that coats the chip is insoluble in… any easily and not-so-easily available chemicals. Boiling sulphuric acid might turn out useful – but not always. Yet the efforts to open the chip are certainly worth the fight. I can’t tell what device this chip came from. Likely something from an old laptop motherboard. The wiring shines in nice cyan and green. The square structures are likely capacitors. I have no clue about its functionality.

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A couple of weeks later, I decided to post one more chip with beautiful wiring shining in deep yellow. I again underlined the difficulty in reaching the beautiful silicon die, which is the key part of the process. And I also gave hints about the size of the die.

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Here we have another extreme closeup of a chip. The wiring glows in beautiful green. I can’t tell what device the chip came from. Possibly from a Raspberry Pi but could also be some component from the motherboard of an old laptop. Opening these is really tricky due to the epoxy covering that’s close to indestructible by chemical means. All the efforts are worth it, though when you see the beautiful silicon die. The chip is barely several milimeters in real life, so one needs strong magnification, a sharp lens without major aberrations and a sturdy tripod. Focusing is really tricky because the depth of field is in hundreds of microns or less. For the reference, a human hair is about 75 microns. The image becomes out of focus if you put your foot closer to the tripod. Your back srarts complaining and your eyes are getting fried by the bright light source needed to illuminatr this tiny subject but looking at this beauty makes it worth it.

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Soon after, I was asked about details on how those photos came to life. It got me excited to start diluting my Instagram feed with another passion of mine – technology.

People were comparing the surface structures to cities – something that I had not seen myself before – or rather – not realised. It is always useful to talk to people of different background who see the matter from a different point of view.