Apple Watch Shows the Benefits of Engineering Perfection—and of Flaws – Facts So Romantic

Apple is famous for its obsessive care for design and manufacturing, and its new, much-hyped watches are no exception. But, ironically, the watch can only be created by introducing errors into exquisitely crafted materials.

One familiar material used in Apple’s latest device is silicon, the bedrock of all modern electronics. Engineers first must purify silicon so that fewer than one in a billion atoms are impurities (that is, anything but silicon). They do this using a technique called zone refining, where the material is melted bit by bit, with impurities collecting in the moving molten area, or by converting the silicon into a compound that can be purified by distillation, and then decomposing it back to purified silicon. The ultrapure silicon is then grown into a boule, a single cylindrical crystal that’s up to six feet (2 meters) long and 18 inches (45 centimeters) in diameter. Except for the rare impurities and the physical limits imposed by entropy, every atom in the boule is precisely placed with respect to its neighbors. That precise arrangement is crucial for the next step: introducing carefully controlled concentrations of impurity atoms (known as dopants) to tune the electrical properties across…

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