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Microchip Spider

Updated on May 20, 2013
Microchip Spider
Microchip Spider | Source

Welcome, viewers! For this evening’s episode of Internet Interviews: The History of the Web from Those Who Were There When It All Began, we are going to depart from our typical format. Normally at this point, I would be introducing to you some recognized giant of the fields of computing, semiconductor design, software development, or cutting-edge technology. But — as the subject of tonight’s show is no longer with us, and could not speak, even during his most productive years — we are going to have to tell his story through archival footage and voice-over.

For the hero of today’s enlightening presentation of II:THotWfTWWTWIAB is the Microchip Spider, pictured here with one of his earliest rudimentary creations (picture credit: archives of the J.S.C.Kilby Library at SMU).

Today, the American physicist and electrical engineer Jack St. Clair Kilby is best known for his Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, as well as for his significant contributions to the design of integrated circuits, handheld calculators and thermal printers. However, in the hot summer of 1958, Jack was just a recent hire at Texas Instruments who did not yet merit any vacation time. He toiled away in the hot labs, grinding away at seemingly insoluble technical problems. A walk through the cooling evening fields beyond the research center offered the only brief respite from his labors, and valuable time to ponder his problems and cogitate freely.

It was upon just such a contemplative evening ramble that the 35-year-old happened to encounter the Microchip Spider — and his truly amazing web — for the first time. He quickly raced back to his lab to retrieve his camera, and proceeded to record this image for posterity. Kilby was fascinated by the regularity and precise geometry of the web, and by the very methodical placement of sticky ‘nodes’ for capturing prey. He immediately envisioned how such a pattern and structure might simplify the electronic circuitry he was attempting to configure back in the lab, at excruciatingly minute scale. And thus the first concept of a miniature integrated circuit, or microchip, was born. Mr. Kilby dutifully credited that lone prairie Microchip Spider with a seminal position in semiconductor development.

Kilby’s Microchip Spider happened to be a member of the Theridiidae family of tangle-web spiders. Despite the ‘tangle-web’ appellation, spiders of this group of over 2200 different species weave a great variety of web architectures. The rectilinear boundary and orthogonal geometry of the webs of this particular arachnid appear to be its own particular preference and style. Though throughout the ensuing weeks before fall Kilby photographically recorded scores of the Microchip Spider’s successive webs, no physical traces remain today. (This is to be expected, as many spiders regularly reconsume the silk of the previous night’s web, to conserve the great store of protein required in silk production.)

Rumor also has it that this particularly inventive Microchip Spider happened to be a transplanted Hawaiian Theridiidae grallator, or ‘happyface’ spider, bearing body markings on its abdomen resembling a bright yellow grinning clown face. Such speculation has been debunked as merely an attempt by overly creative local entrepreneurs to nurture a strong roadside souvenir trade in Authentic Microchip Spider Smiley Face tee shirts.


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    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      There really was a bug in the machine!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Terrific! The spider that started the whole thing.