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GUEST,Futwick BS: The miracle of Japanese crafts (5) RE: BS: The miracle of Japanese crafts 01 Feb 13

Japanese pottery became the best in the world by around the 7th century. It relied largely on Korean innovations but the Japanese produced higher quality goods. The oldest pottery is from Japan--the Jomon pottery (although I'm sure someone will dispute this).

The Japanese ceramics worked well as dielectrics and they began making ceramics specifically for use in electronics--called "fine ceramics." They mixed the clay with different things to produce ceramics that worked better than crystals. Crystals were used because they only passed current one way turning AC into DC--this is called a diode. Without this smoothing of the broadcast signal, we couldn't hear it because it would be alternating far too fast. Crystals also vibrate when a current is applied to them. Crystals are still used in electronics but are virtually all synthetic--IOW ceramic. Ceramics were used as insulator in America in the 1860s but it needed work.

Some fine ceramics perform the same function as crystals only more reliably.   When the Japanese company TTK bought transistors from Westinghouse, they were interested in making transistor radios. America invented the transistor radio--Texas Instruments, in fact. But it was too large to fit in a normal pocket and required a 22.5 volt battery that ran down quickly. In 1952, this radio cost a whopping $50. American response was tepid. The radio was almost useful but not quite.

TTK was fascinated by the radio, however, but sought to improve on it. Their vision to have miniature complex electronics that consumed little power. With it, they could control the world. It was the future. So after buying the transistors, they realized that they were inadequate for making the radio smaller and running on only 9 volts. They couldn't handle a large enough stream of electrons. They found that if they could dope the transistor with phosphorus, they could achieve their goal. Westinghouse told them to forget it--can't be done. They had been working on that for years and finally shelved it as too impractical. But by coming up with a perfect mix in the ceramics recipe, TTK succeeding in doping the transistors with phosphorus. The result was the TR-63 pocket transistor radio in 1957 which changed the world. TTK reaped enormous profits and changed its name to Sony.

That transistor radio was the start of everything from walkmans to mp3 players to cell phones to modern computers and tablet-type devices. It was all in the miniature electronics that consumed little power. What enables this is fine ceramics. Electronics is impossible without ceramics. There is no substitute but then there doesn't need to be. Others have tried paper, wood and various plastics but these simply don't stack up to ceramics. Even the superconductor technology is dependent on ceramics. Every electronic device you own has ceramics in it. Yes, even your kindle and your smart phone--especially those.

Oddly, when it comes to microchips it too is dependent on an ancient Japanese technology--mirror-making. The Japanese made the best mirrors in the world--extremely well polished and amazingly flat. No distortion. They did this because when white light was shined onto the mirror and reflected onto a surface, one could see a hidden image in the reflection--a family crest or name, an image of Buddha, whatever. This was because the mirror had a raised surface containing that image--a bas-relief. It was so minute that you couldn't see it. But if you shined white light on it and reflected it onto a surface, the raised areas came up darker than the flat areas making an image.

This same technology is used to inspect the surfaces of the boards upon which the microchips must be mounted. That surface has to be perfectly flat. Even a tiny imperfection would ruin it. To inspect it, white light is bounced off the board and a computer monitor is used to inspect the reflection using special software. Imperfections will show up as darker areas that need to be polished down.

It's strange to think that without Japanese pottery and mirrors, we couldn't have our electronics.

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