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Semiconductor Glossary

A circular silicon wafer lies flat under manufacturing equipment at a factory.
Credit: PastryShop/Shutterstock

You may be seeing headlines about chips and semiconductors in the U.S. almost every day, but do you have a glossary on hand to keep up with the newest updates? 

Bookmark this page for a handy reference. 

  • Semiconductor: Material that can act either as a conductor or an insulator of electricity, depending on small changes in voltage 
  • Silicon: Semiconductor material that serves as the basis for many circuits in industry 
  • Transistor: Simple switch, made with a semiconductor material, that turns on or off depending on changes in voltage and can combine with other transistors to create complex devices 
  • Integrated circuit: Many transistors (anywhere from several to billions) combined to make a small circuit on a chip 
  • Wafer: Thin piece of semiconductor material (such as silicon) that we use as a base for building multiple integrated circuits 
  • Lithography: Process of etching into or building onto the surface of a wafer in order to produce patterns of integrated circuits 
  • Chip: Self-contained piece including the semiconductor surface and integrated circuit, independently packaged for use in electronics such as cellphones or computers 
  • Fab: Industrial facility where raw silicon wafers become fully functioning electronic chips 

As used in a sentence: Made with lithography in a fab, the surface of this silicon semiconductor wafer contains thousands of integrated circuits, which are, in turn, made of more than a trillion individual transistors. 

NIST is tasked with conducting critical metrology research and development in support of the domestic semiconductor industry, per the recently enacted CHIPS and Science Act. Read about our path forward

Created October 3, 2022