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Homework Help: Physics of Computers (need help for topics)

  1. May 5, 2007 #1
    Physics of Computers....(need help for topics)

    hey guys, im new to the boards and im stumbling on my physics essay, the physics of computers. I need about 20 pages and i dont know what would be some good topics to talk about. thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2007 #2
    The main topic would have to be semiconductor transistors. You can easily write 20 pages on these, starting with the conceptually simpler valve (vacuum tube) diodes and triodes, p-n diodes, FETs, finally to logic gates. An understanding of this solid state physics will likely help you later on.
  4. May 6, 2007 #3
    You should write about the application of tunneling to the development of semiconductors, and hence transitors, as well as an account of the process of chip creation. All of this can be found in a 'modern physics' class intended for sophomores.
  5. May 6, 2007 #4
    lol, just complete an entire higher level modern physics course, then you shouldn't still be stumbling on the general physics essay (provided it wasn't due this semester..) :wink:

    Crosson, how relevent is tunneling? I thought it could be understood just in terms of free extra electrons, holes and depletion regions?
  6. May 6, 2007 #5
    oh btw... im in high school.... but i definately will talk about transistors. do you guys know of any good sites that could help me with this? Oh and what law of thermodynamics would apply to the heatsink dissapating heat from the cpu?
    Last edited: May 6, 2007
  7. May 6, 2007 #6
    Transistor physics are too advanced for a high school essay, IMO. Even the basic operation of a FET is trickier than you can totally understand with high school physics.

    Thermodynamics is a better topic. You might want to read about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_conductivity" [Broken] and heatsinks in general.

    Another reasonable possibility would be just the physics of electronics, like capacitance and inductance. In high-speed computing circuits, the voltages change very quickly, and the capacitance and inductance of the wires on the circuit boards become extremely important. Go find out why, and you've got yourself an essay.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  8. May 6, 2007 #7

    Claude Bile

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    I think the topic of switching, and the concept of bits and logic gates would make a good topic. Okay, the topic itself is a little abstract, but you could easily "hook it" into the real world by showing how logic gates are implemented in reality via vacuum tubes, transistors and maybe even all-optical transistors depending on exactly how far you wanted to go.

    I would avoid thermodynamics to be honest. I just don't really see an interesting hook on that side of things.

  9. May 7, 2007 #8
    You could start off on the most basic diode, the one done by Edison. Basically a vacuum tube.

    Then you could move on to a triode, the vacuum tube with a wire mesh in between to control the electrons.

    Then you could do the p-n junction diode. Then the transistor by Shockley et. al.

    Move on to the MOSFET or FET etc..

    Thats from the electronics and electrical engineering perspective. You could add another one from the computational and logic part like Babbages differential engine. And then move on to binary numbers and the AND OR NOR NOT gates...

    That would pretty much fill up 20 pages. In the final pages you could outline how TODAY's computers work and put in stuff u could rip off from wikipedia with very basic or laymen knowledge like Quantum Computing, supercomputers blah blah..

    And furthemore, in the middle, you could also add in stuff like software development and how business markets emerged for the computer. Like the birth of IBM and DOS with Microsoft. The open source movement with Linus Torvalds....

    Or programming language developement like Alan Kay and smalltalk..

    the list just goes on and on.. the best thing to do is to start on one wikipedia article and keep clicking all the way in the given links on that page. By around 4 hours of reading, you would be wondering how to make all that information fit into 20 pages....

    hope this silly rant helps..

    EDIT: ok, sorry, I just realized it was the "physics of computing" ... sorry if I babbled on unnecessary stuff..
  10. May 7, 2007 #9


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    probably, what you need to talk about more is the engineering of computers. first a little about binary numbers and arithmetic. then a little about Boolean logic (AND-gates, OR-gates, NOT-inverters) and how to accomplish something, some chore (like adding one bit with carry-in and carry-out) with logic. then talk about how transistors can be solid state switches that can accomplish such logic.

    a good conceptual vehicle, if you have time to slap it together, is a base-2 abacus out of wood. this would have one bead per digit (which is called a "bit" in base-2) and would be used to show how numbers are added and subtracted in base-2.
  11. May 7, 2007 #10


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    You could also bypass the whole computational system and delve into optical and magnetic principles, and mechanical control mechanisms, involved in mass-storage devices.
  12. May 7, 2007 #11
    Computers aren't just home PC's. You can talk about robotic controllers -- concepts of pulse width modulation, analog to digital converters, sensors, power distribution, input and output, RF, interrupts and timers, etc
  13. May 7, 2007 #12
    oh, i remember, u can also talk about the turing machine and stuff and how it all developed into something called "computing".... is that still physics enough?
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