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The hidden art inside microchips

The hidden art inside microchips

This image of Thor was taken by Molecular Expressions from a Hewlett-Packard graphics chip.

If you've ever wondered what a microchip looks like up-close, then you'll be amazed and surprised by the discovery that chip designers hide teeny-tiny works of art on the surface of common components.

The Molecular Expressions team has spent quite a few years building up a digital zoo of hidden artwork on common microchip designs. The images are so small that they are only visible via photomicrography – literally, the use of a microscope to take photographs.

There's some pretty impressive stuff hidden away in your CPU and GPU, too. Swords, migrating buffalo, a smurf, and the Playboy Bunny even makes an appearance.

Although the artwork is mostly used as a way for chip designers to show off their talents and stamp their individuality onto a chip, they can also serve a more serious purpose. Should a competitor copy your design and make their own, the artwork would be duplicated at the same time. Make the artwork personal to you or your company and you've got a sure-fire way of proving that the design is original to you.

I'll warn you now: the site is addictive. With so many images to hand, and with fascinating back stories for most, you can get yourself lost in the Lilliputian world of processor microphotography. Either that, or I need to get out more.

Do you know of any hidden designs in common components that aren't listed on the site, or perhaps you had no idea such things existed? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

19 Comments

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K.I.T.T. 10th March 2008, 10:01 Quote
very cool!....who ever said electrical engineers couldn't be artistic :D
DXR_13KE 10th March 2008, 10:16 Quote
Gareth Halfacree don't worry, i am as hooked as you are..... that is so bloody cool!
airchie 10th March 2008, 10:34 Quote
I'm running late for uni, I must...not...click....the......liiiink! :D
badders 10th March 2008, 10:54 Quote
Which is it: PhotoMicrography or Microphotography?

I was looking at these last year, absolutely fascinating.
bcuk 10th March 2008, 12:06 Quote
Used to work in a semiconductor manufacturers and these things are very common. You didn't see them on the older product but as new designs came in you would notice little designs hidden in the metal layers that wouldnt be visable on the finished die. Skiers, smiley faces, actually seen one that said OMGROFL in a nice fancy script.
Krikkit 10th March 2008, 12:14 Quote
That's very cool, some great ones on there!
Spaceraver 10th March 2008, 12:15 Quote
Wonder what AMD and Intel have on their chips today..
Cupboard 10th March 2008, 12:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spaceraver
Wonder what AMD and Intel have on their chips today..

A big phallus? sorry
legoman666 10th March 2008, 12:43 Quote
That is quite possibly one of the most poorly designed websites I have seen in a while. 1999 called and they want their crappy html back. Haven't these people ever heard of thumbnails?
Satyric_saint 10th March 2008, 15:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by legoman666
That is quite possibly one of the most poorly designed websites I have seen in a while. 1999 called and they want their crappy html back. Haven't these people ever heard of thumbnails?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
BeteNoire99 10th March 2008, 16:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by legoman666
That is quite possibly one of the most poorly designed websites I have seen in a while. 1999 called and they want their crappy html back. Haven't these people ever heard of thumbnails?

You have no idea. I used to work for the guy that owns this website out at Florida State University and all the sections of his website look different and no matter how much we argued with him we couldn't get him to let us update the look because the site is so massive and is so poorly arranged it would have broken it. Not to mention he refuses to build the site in anything but HTML in notepad because its the only code he knows.
Kipman725 10th March 2008, 17:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BeteNoire99
You have no idea. I used to work for the guy that owns this website out at Florida State University and all the sections of his website look different and no matter how much we argued with him we couldn't get him to let us update the look because the site is so massive and is so poorly arranged it would have broken it. Not to mention he refuses to build the site in anything but HTML in notepad because its the only code he knows.

yeah it works and is fast... I hate all these moden flash websites
Brett89 10th March 2008, 18:22 Quote
I'm not sure which is better, the picture or legoman's comment, either way, very cool!
Amon 10th March 2008, 19:41 Quote
Hasn't anyone ever tried printing a faux microchip, on a microchip?
C-Sniper 10th March 2008, 22:27 Quote
heh FSU is in my home town! cool article
D B 11th March 2008, 03:42 Quote
Cool :)
This I saved from ZD Net a couple of years ago ... http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9584_22-5893374.html?tag=nl.e589
HourBeforeDawn 11th March 2008, 08:35 Quote
I remember reading something like this a long long time ago but still is very neat.
Otis Driftwood 3rd July 2008, 00:53 Quote
We used to slip in a few over at T.I. too.
The trick was to put the right one in the right kind of chip.
You didn't think the micro-circuitry really did the magic did you?
Why do you think we are seeing hotter internals since we "obtained" those mesopotamian cylinder seals?
Just doin my part to slip one more meme into the zeitgeist.
The closer you look, the more you see.
Some stuff is observable only by using an Electron Scanning Microscope.
Almost nothing is what is seems, and it has been that way long enough that one may as well say "forever", which is actually incalculable, but perhaps less than a nine hundred ninety thousandth of a microsecond in postulated existance.
The real interesting stuff is located in the subterranean labrynth between T.I. Dallas, and Varo Semi-conductor, and all the small labs in Garland which extend an unknown distance beyond both horizontally and vertically downward.
But we shouldn't speak of that.
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