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‘No Dumb Questions’: What is a semiconductor?

And while we’re at it — why is the Biden administration investing $50 billion in the U.S. semiconductor industry?

In this week’s video, Grid’s Science Reporter Dan Vergano makes clear that there are actually several answers to the question. Beyond the technical matter, there’s the related issue of where they are found (in virtually every electronic gadget, home appliance or vehicle that is produced these days — anything with the adjective “smart” attached to it), and then there are the answers that go to why they matter so much right now. And why the Biden administration believes that semiconductors warrant that enormous investment.

As Vergano notes, semiconductor manufacturing represents both a hugely significant global industry and a national security dilemma for the United States. The latter has to do with where the majority of semiconductors are made (in Taiwan, and increasingly, in mainland China), and with the information that can be stored on each tiny, wafer-thin chip. As Vergano puts it, the U.S. is trying to avoid dependence on an adversary (China) or potential war zone (Taiwan) for “the things in our cruise missiles, our tanks and other heavy weaponry.”

So — what’s a semiconductor? Not a dumb question at all. Watch and listen to Dan Vergano’s answers here:

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