The marvel of microchips

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Half a century ago, Westinghouse buried a time capsule at the 1964 New York World's Fair. In it were "Molecular Blocks," a company invention that squeezed "the functions usually performed by an entire assembly of electronic components" into "small solid blocks of material." If that sounds familiar, that's because it describes what we now know today as an integrated circuit (IC) or microchip.

Westinghouse was one of several entities pursuing IC development at the time, including Texas Instruments, Fairchild, and many Japanese companies. Despite early cooperation, by 1964 most were embroiled in patent litigation.

The image above shows one those early ICs, held by an unnamed person for scale. The chip comes from Westinghouse's WM-1000 series, and is either an oscillator or video amplifier. Sadly we're unable to verify which -- what's left of Westinghouse is now a licensing arm of CBS. It was included in the time capsule among other scientific developments of the era, including antibiotics, a computer memory unit, a plastic heart valve and birth control pills.

The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.