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Computer Chips Exploding for Science 183

Judebert writes "While some may argue that any modern processor without a heat sink already exhibits this behavior, UCSD chemists have discovered that properly doped computer chips are actually explosive. Standard techniques are used, and they function just like normal computer chips. Better yet, they burn clean, making them ideal for chemical analysis. The article sites other uses, such as micromachine propulsion and military explosives, but I imagine this woudl make for the ultimate in copy protection, as well: "Unauthorized copy detected. This system will self-destruct in 10... 9..." Science Daily also has a copy."
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Computer Chips Exploding for Science

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  • by tunah ( 530328 ) <sam.krayup@com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:38PM (#2827155) Homepage
    This system will self-destruct in 10... 9... 8...

    7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... 0.00000000198

  • by Anonymous Coward
    while true ; do
    echo boom > /dev/cpu &
  • Has Microsoft made a bid for the technology yet?
  • *boof*
    Customer: My computer exploded!
    Tech Support: Guess you have to get a new one.
    Customer: Yeah! Here's $1000 for a new one!

    Unethical computer manufacturers could get a lot of money out of this. And 1337 HAX0rZ can blow up people's computers. :D I bet that this is a farily silly technology anyway!
  • Eeesh (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Reminds me of the time my phone line got hit by lightning.. I'd like to also state that all the little chips on modems tend to explode quite nicely too.
  • Microsoft would love to get this to work with XP's copy protection
  • by yahwey ( 167049 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:42PM (#2827182) Homepage
    As if airline restrictions weren't bad enough already, now my laptop will surely be considered a bomb!
  • flying (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 10e 999 ( 128948 )
    Great. Now we're going to have to comletely dismantle laptops, game boys, and talking Barney dolls before we are allowed to board flights.

    Seriously, what are the possibilities of using this to cause life threatening explosions?
    • Re:flying (Score:2, Funny)

      by nurightshu ( 517038 )

      Well, on its own the chip's explosion would almost certainly not be life-threatening. However, you could theoretically use this as a catalyst to detonate a high-order explosive.

      Your laptops should be safe on airlines, folks. Pretty much the only way to make this dangerous would be to wrap a brick of Semtex around it (which the airports already have sniffer-dogs to detect), or build a chip so large that it releases enough energy to do serious damage. Explaining a laptop the size of a blackboard would be difficult, I think.

      "No really, it's for doing some serious number-crunching..."

      • Re:flying (Score:2, Funny)

        by Colin Bayer ( 313849 )
        Explaining a laptop the size of a blackboard would be difficult, I think.

        "I swear, officer, it's my []
        iBook with 14' screen!"
  • All they did is find out that silicon combined with other materials is explosive. They have not made exploding chips yet. Still that would be a useful tool if They could control it and avoid the lawsuits. (and viruses. Think of a I Love You virus designed to destroy computer chips)
  • damn! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Phexro ( 9814 )
    and i thought this [] was just bad trashy journalism.

    so... when does slashdot get a bat boy [] story icon?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So what's the porno popup got to do with this topic??
      • "So what's the porno popup got to do with this topic??"

        nothing at all - in fact, i don't even see them, since i click "no" when konqueror asks me if i want to allow a javascript popup to open or not.

        the fucking enormous image in the middle of the page, on the other hand, is relevant in a humorous way.
    • For the stileproject and porn pop-up cowards, the direct link is []. It's a scan of a Weekly World News item some time ago with the headline, "Hackers Can Turn Your Home Computer Into a BOMB!"

      The article starts out thusly:

      Washington -- Right now, computer hackers have the ability to turn your home computer into a bomb and blow you to Kingdom Come -- and they can do it anonymously from thousands of miles away!

      Experts say the recent "break-ins" that paralyzed, and eBay websites are tame compared to what will happen in the near future.

      It only gets better from there.

      For the uninitiated, WWN is THE cheesiest, worst supermarket tabloid ever. It's always good for a laugh or two, and sometimes I miss it here in Europe. It makes the Sun and the National Enquirer both look like the pinnacles of objective and researched journalism. Lots of stories on two-headed cyclops cannibal babies with 280 IQs and the ability to channel Nostradamus.


      Don't bother modding this. It ain't funnier than the parent, it ain't that informative and there's enough other comments out there more deserving of your mod points. Oh, and I'm capped. And 25% of my last 24 comments are already Score:5.

  • Imagine overclocking these :D
  • I once made a microchip explode in lab when it came into contact with the contacts from a 560W DC power supply.
    A corner of the chip 'chipped' off and left a mark in the desk when it he. Good thing I wasn't in the way.
    • Re:Been there... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tjb ( 226873 )
      Heh. Done that before.

      I had to remove a flash chip from a socket, but couldn't find the right tool, so I grabbed an 8 inch soldering pick (the kind that look like dentists tools) and proceeded to lift the flash. Unbeknownst to me, I bridged the tool to the unrectified (110V AC) power supply exposed at the switch of my dev board.

      Zap! Flash! Bang!

      Tossed my sorry ass about three feet backwards while the flash chip burst into flames and jumped about a foot into the air :) After recovering, I took a look at the chip and the packaging was completely gutted in the middle where (presumably) the (ex-)die was.

      Oops :)

      • Ahem.

        That is why they call them Flash chips, you know.

        "Mulling over 'No Score +1 Bonus' checkbox just now...although 'Post Anonymously' would probably be safer..."
  • I thought AMD already discovered this... --MonMotha
  • "Most people are familiar with silicon as the material that's used in computer chips for circuits"

    What, judging by the fact that gets more hits than

  • So much for laptops and electrical devices on airplanes.
    • Shhhh, be vewwwwwy quiet!

      Over the years we've had to have laptops sent through the Xray machines in our bags, taken out of our bags and sent through on the conveyor by themselves, back in the bags but vertical so they don't mask other things, taken out and turned on, taken out and explained that this model doesn't use batteries so you can only turn it on if you can plug it in, and to do that you'll need to unplug their X-Ray machine because there aren't any outlets nearby, and they're making you take off your hats, coats, pagers, cellphones, radios, palmpilots, shoes, eyeglasses, belts, piercings, bluejeans with copper rivets in them, artificial hip joints, metal-braced lingerie, car keys, buttons with comments about government harassment, and shiny things in general.

      I've had people at San Jose Airport ask me if my bag had a laptop in it - like DUUHHHH - this is San Jose, is there anybody here carrying a bag that *doesn't* have a laptop in it? If they want to ask if I've got an interesting laptop, fine :-) They don't seem to have figured out laser pointers yet... But if they even HEAR about exploding microprocessors, it won't be possible to travel at all.

      At least I didn't have a laptop with me the time I was bringing my nephews a KG of Silly Putty in clear baggies with 500g each :-)

  • "Other possible security or military applications of this explosive might be the construction of information-collecting devices that self-destruct ..." Let's just hope this doesn't happen until after Dubya gets out of the White House. "How long until it self-destruc..." *BOOM*
  • by e5z8652 ( 528912 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:49PM (#2827204) Homepage
    Science finally explains all those years of exploding consoles in Star Trek!
  • I was using a Harddrive that was just sitting on the desk. Stupid me set a paperclip or something on it, not thinking, and I was hit with hot shards of Silicon. It left a nasty little prick on my face for a while. THankgod it didn;t hit my eye.
  • Now I will not even get to take a laptop on an airline anymore...
  • Explosion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alleria ( 144919 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:57PM (#2827229)
    The article says that the explosion might be useful for analysing chemicals in-field, which I can see, even if explosions are fairly uncontrolled, but what's this with 'as a power source?'

    I agree that things like modern engines work by having mini explosions that push pistons up/down etc., but *in general* explosions are not a very efficient way to power things. Witness the fact that the human body does not burn/explode glucose, but rather goes through aerobic respiration to oxidize it.

    So, um, how exactly does this stuff get used in controlled explosions as a continuous power source?
    • So, um, how exactly does this stuff get used in controlled explosions as a continuous power source?

      Some engineering school or another designed micro-thrusters that sat on a chip, ideal for microsatellites. The basic premise was that some of the chip junctions would burn through at a controlled time, allowing for a tiny little burst of propulsion. Perhaps it's one of these?
    • if only we can harness the power of intestinal gases within the human body. It could be a renewable source of energy. It could power our cars and homes, and make green house gas a thing of the past..

      You too can do your part to save the environment by eating a can of beans a night.
  • You know, with more and more pocket PCs out there, airplanes are at risk.

    Two pen taps and the plane would go boom.

    I think the government should regulate everything from Cell phones to Computers. Make it so everytime you go buy electronics, you must show your ID in order to purchase it; then interrogate the person if they don't have their card on them. :)
  • practical uses (Score:2, Informative)

    by xah ( 448501 )
    Military agencies can put a "blasting cap" on microchips that will be going into hostile territory. For example, a computer on board an attack airplane. If the airplane is ever downed in enemy territory, a remote electronic signal can be transmitted to light up all the silicon on the plane. As long as there is enough back-up battery charge to send the right voltage, there would be no need to send in a second plane or commando group to destroy the sensitive, grounded plane.

    Energy source? The article said it produced a clean burning flame. Could the reaction be slowed down? Could we produce cheap energy from plentiful silicon?

    • Dr. Strangelove

      Sorry, sir, the CRM114 was damaged in the explosion and blew itself up.

      • I would venture a practical use of this phenomenon to be in detonating explosives. A blasting cap with a couple different sensors with microcode instructions explaining what situations to explode in. Very useful. Make the inputs for the sensors standard and then you could pick from a whole variety and use the same set up. Very little training there. An artificially intelligent landmine with RF detection, IR whatever you want.
    • Wonder if this might also be used as a cyber-warfare mechanism. Ever hear the rumors/myths about the backdoor in printers, computers, whatever, exported to foreign countries? The story goes that the U.S. military can send a special code, a virus of sorts, that activates the backdoor and disables the equipment.

      Now imagine building silicon explosives into export equipment. Some fellow sitting back at CIA HQ launches Son of SirCam - within 12 hours, desktops all over Iraq are blowing up.

      The ultimate Denial of Service attack.

    • I am a news photographer... one afternoon when a B-1 bomber went down in a Kentucky cow field, the plane exploded into tiny, tiny shreds. Thankfully, the pilot and the crew ejected and were unharmed. Unfortunately, several cows didn't make it.

      One of the most interesting moments that followed in the media cavalcade happened a day later. A man drove out of the woods with a pickup and dropped off a large, man-sized bent piece of metal, which according to the DoD was the larest piece of the plane left. It was the heavy steel dash of the cockpit that holds the hundreds of tiny dials the pilots read. No dials, but a lot of steel.
      ...other than that, I looked for probably 45 minutes with a pair of binoculars at the impact point, and the largest piece I ever saw was a tire. The B-1 is one helluva big plane. It blows up automatically in a crash... no external signal necessary.

      Trust me, the DoD does its homework when it comes to keeping its avionics secret.

      I have no doubt in my mind that our plane that got captured in China revealed as little as possible to the Chinese Gov't. I realistically believe that they learned very little from taking that plane apart. They certainly didn't get any software to run the equipment, that is for sure. And the software is the real heart of any surveilance system.

      In answer to making microchips explode, I would believe there are much better, more certain ways of destroying microprocessors and leave no readable trace.

      Your idea has good merit for tiny processors or espionage equipment, that isn't practical for carrying its own destruct. Its also a great idea for sabotage.
      • I know that one company I used to work for had a military contract and one of the items was to garuntee that the data containing parts of the system would be completely melted by X degress at temperature Y. I believe they did something like put thermite and a triggering unit in the case with it.

        That, of course, does much more damage than just a chip explosion. I've only seen one exploded chip--the SCSI controller on an MVME2700 (Motorola) blew about a quarter of the area and half the depth out. I was kinda reassured when I looked at my own board and saw that it had a different model chip in that spot. I don't think it could have killed anyone put it certianly could have done some serious damage to an eye if you leaned over to plug the chassis in. (I wish I had the picture handy, put I don't)
  • Hey, so they found a use for the Pentium 4!

    (Uh oh, here comes the modstick...)

  • Planned obsoletion? You could always say the cooling failed, so the chip caught fire and sorry, it's out of warranty.
  • Doesn't AMD have a patent on silicon burning really fast []...

  • &gt chemists have discovered that properly doped computer chips are actually explosive.

    And all this time I thought Sadam just liked playing video games
  • My friends and I have been doing experiments like this for years!

    Finally modern science has decided to catch up :-)
  • I COULD see somone shipping a new media device that burns itself after being played X times... This *is* the ultimate copy protection scheme.
  • Ouch (Score:3, Funny)

    by EggplantMan ( 549708 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:12PM (#2827282) Homepage
    This gives a whole new meaning to 'fatal error'.
  • I'm sure if this ever was put into normal CPUs, (which would be dumb) many a teenager would have some great after school fun by running into computer shops and seeing who can explode the most PCs.
    Also, what kind of hsf would you have to use so it doesn't overheat and self-destruct ?
  • Can you gear the chips to explode only after going through a certain set of logic gates? I mean, how useful is a self-destructing chip if it self destructs before its even used?

    At any rate, I can definitely see this as incentive for me to get my password right within three tries./p>

  • by necama ( 10131 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:19PM (#2827305)
    The silicon that they're talking about here is porous silicon, which has properties that are massively different than the bulk crystal. Current study on the material has found that it is an excellent emitter of both light and electrons.

    The primary problem with this material is nobody understands it either chemically or physically. We have a list of stuff you can do with it, but no model to predict other effects.

    This is pretty cool, though....
  • XeF4 is routinely used in the etching process. It sometimes forms XeF6 though, which is a contact explosive.
  • Now when Intel launches they're latest bomb, it will really be true!
  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:33PM (#2827337) Homepage
    This is not about exploding computer chips. This is about using the microlithography techniques and materials (silicon) from the chip industry to make electronically controlled micro-explosives. There is nothing here about making existing chips explode.
  • Just don't let Gene Simmons have them...

    Runaway (1984) []
  • What a perfect thing for the military....

    abandon the helicopter,aircraft,tank,spy vehicle? on the way out hit the destruct button... first the eeproms and all circuts explode then the vehicle leaving nothing behind for the enemy to reverse engineer...

    Or better yet... instead of the musical greeting card.... the maiming greeting card.... for your ex's and last employer....

    Oh wait... that's illegal... nevermind.
  • Anyone out there have one of the magnesium-cased NeXT cubes? I hope the fan never quits on you...


    Of course, NeXTWORLD Editor Simson Garfinkel's quasi-sick obsession [] proved that it's not easy to light one of these cases up, but he hadn't reckoned with the awesome power of an exploding processor.

  • This is the first vaporware product that is literal!
  • . . . be a trend? First Batteries [] that catch on fire, and now exploding cpus? What will be exploding in the future?
    • Well, the next threat is not fire or explosions but actually spinning objects spinning at speeds up to 10,000 RPM.

      Hard Drives could become a dangerous issue if we find out they can actually go off their motor and fly out of their casing towards unsuspecting objects, creatures, or people.
  • I'm afraid of what this could mean for future virii...
  • What happens when they put this kind of thing in consumer electronics to make it so that only a professional can repair something as simple as a game controller and then they just magically start going off for no reason? Can you say fire hazard?
  • Think about it. A virus, spreading through Outlook (of course!) infects a computer. It spreads itself on, and then it destroys the CPU. It's beautiful...
  • Trust me, I've done research in the field of Porous Silicon. This explains quite a few mini-explosions that happened with my experiments though.

    ALSO, it takes chilling the porous silicon down to LIQUID OXYGEN temperatures...yeah, so liquid oxygen is dangerous enough!
  • Readers of the finest news source in america [] have known this all along []...
  • Okay, so it can blow up a CPU, but what about RAM, other chips on the motherboard, and hard disks?

    Hard disks not so likely I guess.
    • I had a friend that said that his computer was smoking just before he wasnt able to get it to boot up again. I didnt believe him, cuz, well what does he know. Probally just dust. When I took a look at the hardware I noticed that the HardDrive wasnt being detected on any computer I installed it on. Turns out that one of the chips on the bottem of it was scorched.
      Strange stuff if you ask me.
      • I had a FIC motherboard (not sure which, it was an old one that went max of 400mhz).. it was AT and ATX compatible, when running as AT and using an AGP video card, the screen wouldnt turn on, i started to smell smoke, i looked over at the (opened) box, the chip on the video card was GLOWING.. and im not the only one who experianced this, I remember seeing a few posts about it on several motherboard discussion boards.... I sold that board on ebay, and had to buy a new video card.
  • Thats funny.

    When I was about 12(81 or so) my dad brought me slews of stuff from work to scrap parts off of, LONG story short he took all the lithium batteries on the boards I was given, several had them, their engineer had to pick shards of PCB ut of his arm after he shorted one, (This was beore they had an internal "breaker") ,

    A couple of years ago I was short on cash so, I decided to sell my IMSAI , well I went to power it up to test it so I could say, "Working Condition"
    Well shit started blowing everywhere, caps going off like firecrackers, kinda makes me wonder whats going to happen when I fire up my 386 in 20 years to show my son :)
  • the fabled HCF -- Halt and Catch Fire -- opcode.
  • by farrellj ( 563 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @11:33PM (#2827467) Homepage Journal
    Finally, we pitiful earthlings can build the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator!

    Lookout Marvin!

  • Original Paper (Score:2, Informative)

    by diegoq ( 149586 )
    You can read the original paper in Jan 2002 Advanced Materials.

    The abstract is online: Scroll down to 38-41: Explosive Nanocrystalline Porous Silicon and Its Use in Atomic Emission Spectroscopy [].
    Can't read the full article tho', unless you subscribe...visit your local library and ask for it.
  • If explosive (but working) computer chips can now be created, how long will it be before laptops are banned on airplanes? The old "turn on your laptop and prove it works" routine won't exactly be enough to prove that the computer doesn't contain explosive components anymore.
    • The old "turn on your laptop and prove it works" routine won't exactly be enough to prove that the computer doesn't contain explosive components anymore.

      It never actually did. Just put the explosive into the (removable) CD-Rom drive, and by just booting the laptop, the attendant will be none the wiser. Or if he is persisting enough to also test the CD-Rom drive, just make a Laptop battery which is one half battery, and the other half explosive.

  • -----
    This copy of Windows has already been activated on another computer. Self-destruct sequence activated.
    We hope Hell is where you wanted to go today.


    The Microsoft Windows Team
  • 'This e-mail is sent you as warning from Bill Gates about the new ChipDet computer virus

    It is very serious an if not detected can cause your computer chip to explode, which will also explode your computer.

    Please forward this on to everybody you know as soon as possible. Remember this is very important."

  • Really give the term Blue Screen of Death a new meaning.

    Computer crashed? Well, you better get the hell out of the room.

    The BSOD is always the last thing you see.

    Kernel oops? oops, pick your case out of your stomach.

    [i know this doesn't work on existing chips... but I couldn't help it]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Many years ago, we would use thermite "bombs" on top of the racks of sensative equipment> I was never in a hostile situation that required Emergancy Destruction, but I had buddies who had. I hear it was quite spectaculare when one would be set off. Anouther piece of tactical equipment had a mark to indicate where a .38 or larger caliber round could be shot to destroy all of the relevent circuitry. Shooting the equipment has got to be a lot more fun then sending a stupid code or flipping a swithch.
  • anyone who's ever put a Ceramic EPROM in the programmer backwards.
  • Many years ago, in the mid-'80s, back when I had time to do fun things like hook up TTL chips to make LEDs blink, I exploded two LEDs at two different times, by accidently putting 5 volts across them with no current-limiting resistor. The second was a tiny LED, not much bigger than modern surface mount LEDs, but the first time, it was a jumbo (6mm or so) red LED, and the top popped off and bounced off of my glasses. Good thing I wear glasses or it could have gone into my eye, and it would have not been fun explaining that to my mom.

    So basically, if you want to try this at home kids, get a few junk jumbo LEDs, a 5 volt non-switching power supply, and if you're smart, a nailboard to pop them from a distance.

    • I haven't seen this happen much, but a chip can blow its lid too. The best example I have seen is an old Colecovision that must have been hit with a surge from lightning. A third of the chips in that thing had popped their tops, and one capacitor was very singed. But LEDs are still much easier to explode than chips.
  • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @02:32AM (#2827832) Homepage
    Heh. Finally, the fabled machine code operators can be implemented...

    HCF - Halt and Catch Fire
    XOI - Execute Operator Immediately
  • During my destructive years as a geeky youngster, I discovered that nearly all computer chips are capable of violent explosion. All you need is a screwdriver.

    Take your computer's AC cord. Cut off the end that plugs into the computer.

    Strip the wires.

    Wrap one wire around the computer's chassis somewhere.

    Wrap the other wire around a long screwdriver.

    Plug it in, and then run the screwdriver up and down all the chips. Stick it in the slots, press it into the power connectors, jam it into the serial port. It's loads of fun - the chips actually explode! Don't wear safety glasses.

    Don't just toss that old 286... blow it up first!
  • Okay, it's now a very dated and obscure reference, but... For fans of the old Airwolf series: Moffet's Ghost would have had a much better time destroying the jetcopter in Season Two if it had been equipped with chips like these. ;-)
  • Now it's really going to be a bitch to use your laptop on an airplane...

    "Did you pack your own bags?"
    "Has anybody asked you to carry anything onboard the airplane?"
    "Is that laptop running an Intel Pentium95 with ActiveDeath technology?"

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler