Silicon art on a microchip

waldo on a microchip

Ok kids, for today's homework assignment you'll need to turn off your computer, dig out your warranty card to make sure you'll still covered, pry open your desktop or laptop, toss aside anything that doesn't look important, and rip the processor from the clutches of your motherboard. Now place the chip under a high-powered microscope (you do have one, don't you?) and prepare to be wowed by what you see. Hopefully your computer is more than several years old (probably should have mentioned that in the beginning) so you'll have a good chance of witnessing the dying art of silicon-etched graphics. Cell biology researcher Michael Davidson stumbled upon this little-known trend a decade ago, when he discovered a microscopic etching of Waldo (of Where's Waldo fame) while photographing a Hewlett-Packard chip. A little research revealed that engineers have been sneakily including all kinds of graphics and messages on their chips since the late 60's, competing with one another to create the most elaborate artwork. Davidson has catalogued some 300 individual chips bearing such images as Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, and even a Russian message intended for Cold War-era Soviet operatives (who were attempting to reverse-engineer American technology). Unfortunately for microscopic-art lovers, the manufacturing difficulties that can arise from these silicon "easter eggs" have made it all but impossible for modern engineers to go all Picasso on the latest Pentium speed demons.