A curious article at Wired.com about microscopic ‘doodles’ left by integrated circuit designers put me in mind of a day back in 1986 when an idle doodle on an integrated circuit led to the theft of my wallet. 😦
I was 26, and had just finished my PhD on the electronic properties of potassium metal. I decided to break out into a new research area and chose to build a micro-calorimeter, a device consisting of a sample holder, a heater and a thermometer. The idea was to supply a known amount of heat energy to a sample of some material under investigation and then to measure the resulting temperature rise. Its a very simple measurement and a very powerful way of working out what is happening inside a material. But it is a difficult measurement to make, especially at temperatures close to absolute zero. The innovation of this technique was to make the heater, thermometer and sample holder out of a single integrated circuit chip.
Because this was a non-standard device, I had to design everything myself at a fancy design centre on the top floor of the engineering department of UCL. Afterwards they gave me a plan of my 3 mm x 3 mm chip blown up to 1 metre x 1 metre! I was really amazed by this and I placed it on the wall of my office. I had been told that I had to put an identifier on each chip and so I put MIKE001. I thought it was really cool to have my name in writing 10 microns tall. It was very own chip-doodle.
And on that day back in 1986 in Bristol University, someone walked into my office and took my wallet. As he left, a colleague thought he looked suspicious and asked what he was doing? He replied – “I have just been to see MIKE”. No one one calls me Mike, and I conclude now that he must have seen this name written on the poster. My colleague assumed that he knew me, and let him go. Moments later he discovered I was not in my office, but it was too late.
So be careful what you put onto your chips, you never know where or when someone may look.