The Silicon Web: Physics for the Internet Age, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Silicon Web

Physics for the Internet Age, 1st Edition

By Michael G. Raymer

CRC Press

600 pages | 590 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2009-06-23
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The technology behind computers, fiber optics, and networks did not originate in the minds of engineers attempting to build an Internet. The Internet is a culmination of intellectual work by thousands of minds spanning hundreds of years. We have built concept upon concept and technology upon technology to arrive at where we are today, in a world constructed of silicon pathways and controlled by silicon processors.

From computers to optical communications, The Silicon Web: Physics for the Internet Age explores the core principles of physics that underlie those technologies that continue to revolutionize our everyday lives. Designed for the nonscientist, this text requires no higher math or prior experience with physics. It starts with an introduction to physics, silicon, and the Internet and then details the basic physics principles at the core of the information technology revolution. A third part examines the quantum era, with in-depth discussion of digital memory and computers. The final part moves onto the Internet era, covering lasers, optical fibers, light amplification, and fiber-optic and wireless communication technologies.

The relation between technology and daily life is so intertwined that it is impossible to fully understand modern human experience without having at least a basic understanding of the concepts and history behind modern technology, which continues to become more prevalent as well as more ubiquitous. Going beyond the technical, the book also looks at ways in which science has changed the course of history. It clarifies common misconceptions while offering insight on the social impacts of science with an emphasis on information technology.

As a pioneering researcher in quantum mechanics of light, author Michael Raymer has made his own significant contributions to contemporary communications technology


…the author shows how semiconductors and networks require a good understanding of physics ‘by discovery’ … . Following a story that requires only high-school mathematics, the reader is transported from mechanics to thermodynamics, wave propagation, quantum mechanics and even to basic electronic engineering concepts … . Each chapter includes exercises and formal references as well as suggested readings and a provocative section on the social impacts of technology.

Optics & Photonics News (OPN), January 2011

Change the title of this excellent text to ‘Physics for the Internet Age: The Silicon Web’ as soon as possible to attract teachers of all introductory physics courses to look into this text for adoption with its many hints as a PER [Physics Education Research]-influenced text.

—Professor John L. Hubisz, North Carolina State University, The Physics Teacher, November 2010

… a text perfect in itself and perfect for its time … . ideal for an undergraduate course required of all physical science, engineering, computer science, and mathematics majors.

Physics Today

[A] stunningly rich story about the Internet and its associated technologies … . The Silicon Web is an elegant and elaborate textbook, one that examines the science underlying the current revolution in communications technology. Each scientific concept arises on a need-to-know basis in the context of a particular … issue or device. All the important physics is here, but presented in an engaging way, with modern examples.

—From the Foreword by Louis A. Bloomfield, author of How Things Work

Table of Contents

Introduction: Physics and Its Relation to Computer and Internet Technologies

Physics, Silicon, and the “Magic” behind the Internet Age

A Zoomed-In Look inside a Computer

Timeline of Great Discoveries and Inventions in Physics and Computer and Communication Technologies

The Methods and Significance of Science

The Relation of Science and Information Technology

Social Impacts: Science and Technology

Mathematics: The Language of Science and Technology

The Utility of Mathematics in Science and Technology


Precision and Significant Digits

Large and Small Numbers and Scientific Notation

Real-World Example 2.1: Precision of Display Pixels

Units for Physical Quantities


Binary Numbers

The Concept of Information

Exponential Growth

Social Impacts: The Exponential Change of Nearly Everything

Mechanics: Energy Enables Information Technology

From Looms to Computers

Speed, Acceleration, and Force

In-Depth Look 3.1: Distance Traveled under Constant Acceleration

Real-World Example 3.1: Seek Time of a Hard-Drive Head

In-Depth Look 3.2: Net Force Vectors

Real-World Example 3.2: Acceleration in Cathode-Ray Tubes

Principles of Mechanics

Real-World Example 3.3: Force on a Hard-Drive Head

The Physics of Energy

Friction and Thermal Energy

The Constancy of Energy

Units for Mechanics


Real-World Example 3.4: Motion Sensors in Laptops

Social Impacts: Scientific Thought and Methods Have Arguably Changed the Course of Human History More Than Anything Else

Matter and Heat: Cooling Computers is Required by the Physics of Computation

From Steam Engines to Computers

Matter and Atoms

Gases, Liquids, and Solids

In-Depth Look 4.1: Size and Numbers of Atoms

Real-World Example 4.1: Growing Silicon Crystals for Computer Chips

Pressure in a Gas

Pressure in a Liquid

Pumps, Current, and Resistance

Real-World Example 4.2: A Water-Pressure-Operated Computer


The Ideal Gas

Heat and Thermal Energy Transfer

Real-World Example 4.3: Cooling Computer Chips

Principles of Thermodynamics: Extracting Work from Heat

Cooling Computers is Required by the Physics of Computation

Social Impacts: The Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution

Electricity and Magnetism: The Workhorses of Information Technology

Electricity and Magnetism Are the Basis of Computers and the Internet

Electric Charge

In-Depth Look 5.1: The Concept of Plus and Minus Electric Charge

Electric Forces: Coulomb’s Law

In-Depth Look 5.2: The Discovery of the Electron

Electric Fields

In-Depth Look 5.3: Electric Field Lines

Electric Current and Conductors

Electrical Energy and Voltage

Real-World Example 5.1: Capacitor Computer Memory

Resistors, Conductors, and Ohm’s Law

Electrical Power



Real-World Example 5.2: The Telegraph, Precursor to the Internet

In-Depth Look 5.4: Magnetic Materials and Data Storage

Social Impacts: Innovation and Public Support of Science

Digital Electronics and Computer Logic

The “Reasoning” Abilities of Computers

Concepts of Logic

Electronic Logic Circuits

Logic Operations and Diagrams

Using Logic to Perform Arithmetic

Implementing Logic with Electromagnetic Switches

Supplemental Section: Boolean Search of Databases

Chapter 7 Waves: Sound, Radio, and Light

Communicating with Sound, Radio, and Light

Simple Harmonic Motion

Damped and Complex Harmonic Motion

Driven Harmonic Motion and Resonance

In-Depth Look 7.1: Resonance Frequencies

Real-World Example 7.1: Crystal Oscillators and Microprocessor Clocks


Simple Harmonic Waves

Interference of Waves

In-Depth Look 7.2: Standing Waves

Sound Waves

In-Depth Look 7.3: Beats

Wireless Radio Waves

Real-World Example 7.2: AM Radio

Let There Be Light Waves

In-Depth Look 7.4: Light Polarization

Real-World Example 7.3: LCD Screens

Interference of Light

Social Impacts: Music, Science and Technology

Analog and Digital Communication

Communication Systems: Analog and Digital

Basics of Analog Radio

Basics of Digital Radio

The Maximum Rate of Transmitting Data

Maximum Data Rate

Frequency Multiplexing and Bandwidth

In-Depth Look 8.1: Signal Reconstruction

Quantum Physics of Atoms and Materials

Atoms, Crystals, and Computers

The Quantum Nature of Electrons and Atoms

The Experiments behind Quantum Theory

In-Depth Look 9.1: Spectrum of Hydrogen Atoms

The Spinning of Electrons

The Principles of Quantum Physics

Building Up the Atoms

Real-World Example 9.1: Fluorescent Lamps

Electrical Properties of Materials

In-Depth Look 9.2: Origin of the Energy Gap in Silicon Crystals

In-Depth Look 9.3: Atomic Nature of Magnetic Domains

Social Impacts: Science, Mysticism, and Pseudo-Science

Semiconductor Physics: Transistors and Circuits

Silicon, Transistors, and Computers

Controlling the Conductivity of Silicon

p-n Junctions and Diodes

Real-World Example 10.1: A Simple Crystal AM Radio Receiver


CMOS Computer Logic

In-Depth Look 10.1: Water-Effect Transistors

Miniaturization, Integrated Circuits, and Photolithography

In-Depth Look 10.2: Bipolar Transistors

Social Impacts: Labeling Every Object in the World

Digital Memory and Computers

Physics, Memory, and Computers

Sequential Logic for Computer Memory

Feedback Example #1: NOT Loop

Feedback Example #2: One-Time Latch

Static Random-Access Memory

In-Depth Look 11.1: SRAM with Six Transistors

Dynamic Random-Access Memory

Nonvolatile Memory

In-Depth Look 11.2: Quantum Tunneling

Magnetic Tape and Hard Disk Memory

Optical Compact Disk Memory

Error Immunity of Digital Data

The Structure of a Computer

Hierarchy of Computer Memory

Heat-Imposed Limits of Computers

Representing Information in Computers using Codes

Coding Images

Data Compression

Photons: Light Detectors and Light Emitting Diodes

Light, Physics, and Technology

The Quantum Nature of Light—Photons

Power and Energy in Light

Absorption of Light by Atoms and Crystals (or “How Einstein Got His Nobel Prize”)

In-Depth Look 12.1: Inability of Constant Voltage to Accelerate Electrons in an Insulator

Real-World Example 12.1: Semiconductor Light Detectors

Emission of Light by Atoms and Crystals

Real-World Example 12.2: Light-Emitting Diodes

Social Impacts: Lighting the Darkness (Efficiently)

Light and Optical Fibers for the Internet

Light as a Communication Medium

Propagation, Reflection and Transmission of Light

Light in Transparent Media

Refraction of Light at a Boundary

Reflection of Light at a Boundary

Total Internal Reflection

Prisms and Speeds of Different Colored Light

Lenses and Curved Mirrors

Optical Loss in Materials—The Clarity of Optical Fiber

Light Guiding

Optical Fibers

Light Pulses in Optical Fibers

Social Impacts: Total Immersion in a Sea of Information

Light Amplification and Lasers

Atoms and Lasers

The Uniqueness of Laser Light

Absorption and Emission of Light by Atoms

Laser Resonators

In-Depth Look 14.1: Laser Resonator Frequencies

How a Laser Works

The Helium-Neon Laser

In-Depth Look 14.2: Extreme Laser Facts

Variable-Color Semiconductor Lasers

Overcoming Losses in Fiber-Optic Systems

Quantum Physics Description of Lasers

The Semiconductor Diode Laser

Fiber-Optics Communication

Bandwidth and the Physics of Waves

Overview of Fiber-Optical Communication Systems

Modulating a Laser Beam with Data

Wavelength Multiplexing in Optical Communication

The Virtues of Lasers for Optical Communication

Hardware for Wavelength Multiplexing

Laser Beam Routing

Communication Networks and the Internet

The Physics behind the Internet

The Goals of Computer Communication Networks

Noise in Analog and Digital Systems

Challenges in Networking

Broadcasting Networks and Switching Networks

Failure-Resistant Communications

Wireless Mobile Cell Phone Networks

Propagation of Wireless Waves in Terrain

Summary of Scientific Notation and Units

Sources and Credits for Quotes Used with Permission


About the Author

Michael G. Raymer received his PhD from the University of Colorado in 1979. After a tenure on the faculty at the Institute of Optics, University of Rochester, he moved to the University of Oregon in 1988, where he became founding Director of the Oregon Center for Optics. His research focuses on the quantum mechanics of light and its interaction with atoms, molecules, and semiconductors, with applications in nonlinear optics, communications technology, and quantum information. In 1993, his group reported the first instance of experimental quantum-state tomography of light. He has been honored as Fellow of both the American Physical Society and Optical Society of America. He has served on the Committee on Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) Science, National Research Council, and Executive Committee of the American Physical Society's Division of Laser Science.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Physics