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JUL/AUG 2013  

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News/Features: Down Sizing

While computer chips have become much smaller since their inception in 1958, most of the attention surrounding them has revolved around a prediction made in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors placed on one chip would double every 2 years. Now known as Moore’s Law, those in the semiconductor industry don’t just abide by it, they use it as a call to action—a challenge.

Back in the mid-1980s in the small central Illinois town of Pekin, if someone had suggested it was possible to purchase a fingertip-size camera with a fisheye lens for a mere $100, I know at least one photojournalist who may have needed a padded room to contain himself.

There are smaller microscopes—if you include the endoscopic variety—but a miniature fluorescence microscope recently developed at Stanford University is a standout at just under an inch tall and weighing less than 2g. Though it can easily rest on your fingertip, the device grabs more attention for its technological prowess and, possibly, for looking as though actor Rick Moranis created the device by shrinking its larger cousin.

This just in: antennas continue to get larger and smaller.

Though the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is still home to the world’s largest antenna, at 305m in diameter, Arecibo will become the Second City of radio telescopes in 2016 when construction of the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in southwest China is completed.

When the iPhone 5 debuted this fall, the “Lightning” connector that ships with the smartphone definitely came with a bit of shock for Apple fans. Based on bleeding-edge technology, the new connector is less than a third the size of its predecessor 30-pin connector and forces anyone with legacy accessories to purchase a bloody adapter.

Among the accolades bestowed on Switch Lighting for its line of light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, one outshines all the others—the silver Edison Award earned for its Switch75 LED bulb. Though no smaller than the incandescent bulbs Thomas Edison perfected for commercial manufacture more than 130 years ago, the Switch75 consumes 80 percent less energy than an equivalent 75w incandescent bulb.

Though music synthesizers were the size of entire recording studios back in the days of vacuum tubes, and now can be played on an iPhone or iPad, it’s really the size of the sound that matters to musicians and consumers alike.

Though implantable pacemakers now come in models as small as a half dollar, rampant talk on the Internet promises a future with devices that offer an exponential reduction in size and cost—not to mention reduced risk of infection.

To be sure, today’s pacemaker options are dwarfed by the first such device ever implanted. That Siemens-Elema pacemaker, implanted in 1958, was the size of a shoe polish tin.

At 150' wide and labeled with the ENIAC acronym, the world’s first computer hit the stage in 1946 as if straight out of an old black-and-white science fiction movie. Except, as the Public Broadcasting Service aptly noted in its online “Transistorized” report, ENIAC probably “spawned those movies.”

With a volume of 16cm3, the Quantum Chip-Scale Atomic Clock (CSAC) from Symmetricom Inc., San Jose, Calif., is not only a third the size of its predecessors, it runs on just 1 percent of the power.