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Silicon video offers rare glipmse into making of circuits

STANFORD - Ruth Carranza won an Emmy for the first documentary she ever made, an educational video produced for her master's degree in Stanford's Communication Department.

Beyond that, Carranza proved the thesis that drew her into filmmaking in the first place - that film is an exciting tool for communicating complex technological processes. Her video, Silicon Run, has been used to explain integrated circuit manufacturing in more than 250 colleges, corporations and government agencies.

Clients use it to teach engineering students, train workers in high-technology industries and perhaps to influence government policy. Customers have ranged from Carnegie Mellon University to the University of Texas at Austin, from AT&T and IBM to the Bush administration's White House Science Adviser.

At 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, Carranza premieres Silicon Run II, in Stanford's Fairchild Auditorium. The sequel was produced in collaboration with Stanford's Center for Integrated Systems (CIS). The host of the premiere will be John Linvill, former director of CIS and professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

Silicon Run II was funded by $185,000 in grants and loans from the National Science Foundation, the Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering, Intel Foundation, Apple Computer Inc., Digital Equipment Corp. and the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Institute.

Viewed together, the two half-hour videos take the viewer on a privileged tour of integrated circuit manufacturing. Silicon Run begins with the growth of a pure silicon crystal and ends with a batch of chips etched on a silicon wafer; in Silicon Run II, those chips are tested, treated and assembled on a PC board.

Sequence a mystery to most

Engineers, students and even workers on semiconductor assembly lines never see this sequence from beginning to end, Carranza said.

"This takes you into the manufacturing process," she said. "The shots are close-ups, as if you were there. Industry is such a vast assembly line that people think the whole is too big to understand. I tell workers, you guys know so much more than you know you know."

In addition to film, Carranza uses animated computer graphics to clarify the basic concepts of silicon chip design and assembly. Special effects like slow-motion and microphotography show the precision and beauty of a process aimed at guiding electrons around on crystals. Visual metaphors remind the viewer that integrated circuits are the guts of everyday tools, from a touch-tone phone to the CAD-CAM computers used to design the chips themselves.

Most industrial sequences were filmed in the "clean rooms" at Apple, Intel and other major local manufacturers; Carranza says it took all of her negotiating skills to talk some of her hosts out of insisting on "talking-head" interviews with corporate vice presidents, a type of promotion that would have narrowed the value of the videos. She stood her ground, and the result is a guided tour though an anonymous, state-of-the-art manufacturing process - people and machines performing an intricate industrial ballet.

Silicon Run has become a decade-plus project for the 44- year-old filmmaker, who first took up a camera to do time-lapse photography for her job as a crystal grower for Stanford's Center for Materials Research. She left the center to pursue a master's degree in documentary film-making in 1981. Fund raising, research and the difficulty of negotiating access with semiconductor manufacturers delayed the premiere of the first video until 1986. Silicon Run II faced similar obstacles, but in the process Carranza has established herself as a science and educational filmmaker.

More coming in series

There's still more to do in the Silicon Run series, Carranza says: Many clients who use the first film in industrial training programs want her to update it. Semiconductor manufacturing processes have not changed radically since 1986, but fashions have changed in clean room attire. The workers in the first video look dated in their white suits and shower-cap hairnets. In the sequel, workers wear head-to-toe coveralls that look like astronauts' uniforms.

Carranza credits a long list of Stanford and semiconductor industry advisers for help with her films. In particular, she is grateful to electrical engineering Professor James Plummer.

"He [Plummer] opens doors in industry; he clarifies things for me; he's the one who has really been there to help things through," she said. "This film is his baby along with mine."


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