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What is a Microchip?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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A microchip is a small semiconductor used to relay information via specific electrical characteristics. In some cases, the term can be used interchangeably with integrated circuit. The microchip is at the heart of many electronics, including computers, cell phones and even microwave ovens.

The first microchip is credited jointly to Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby in 1958. Though both were working for different companies and coming at the invention from slightly different angles, the two companies decided both had part of the overall answer and decided to cross license their inventions to come up with one unified piece of technology. After being demonstrated in 1958, it was first available commercially in 1961.

The technology was basic compared to modern standards. The first chip held one transistor, three resistors and one capacitor; modern ones commonly hold millions of transistors in a space smaller than a U.S. penny. The increase in smaller and smaller semiconductor chips has led to numerous other benefits. Beyond being used in electronic gadgets, they can be inserted into biological organisms as well.

The microchip has even been credited as an invention which is used to save lives. Pacemakers use them in order to keep their timing so that they can run hearts efficiently. Mechanical hearts, themselves, use pacemakers to fully take over the function of a biological heart.

As the cost of biologically-centric microchip applications has come down, the number of uses has increased. For example, many pet owners now get them inserted in their animals; if the pet is lost and taken to an animal shelter or veterinary clinic, one of the first things workers will usually do is scan the animal to see if it has a microchip. The chip will reveal the owner's name and contact information.

Likewise, some people have had microchips inserted into themselves. If they are ever incapacitated and need to be taken to the hospital, they are already carrying their full medical history inside their body. These can be easily scanned and the information downloaded for medical professionals to make the most appropriate decisions possible. In the future, it is envisioned people may have these devices implanted that will take care of many of the everyday tasks. Cars may start as the owner approaches, or doors to homes may unlock only for those who have chips programmed with the key.

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Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On Nov 07, 2012

@LisaLou -- I feel the same way you do about that. I have no problem with placing microchips in equipment and even in pets, but draw the line when it comes to something like that for medical information. I think using a microchip for a pacemaker is a lot different than keeping your medical information with you in a microchip.

I know several people who have a microchip in their dog and have it done every time they get a new dog. Do they also use microchips for cats? If you have a cat that stays inside all the time I don't think it would be a big deal, but I have a cat that spends as much time inside as outside.

She has been fixed and I don't think she ever wanders very far, but there have been a few times when I have wondered where she is. She has always shown up, but I would be worried if she didn't come home and I had no idea where she might be.

By LisaLou — On Nov 07, 2012

I don't know how crazy I am about having a microchip placed inside of me. I know for some people this can be a life saver, but I don't think I would do it. With the advancement of technology I do think it will become more common, but that is something I will really drag my feet on. I feel comfortable leaving my medical information in the computer system instead of inside me.

By andee — On Nov 06, 2012

After having a dog that ran away and I never found out happened to her, I had a microchip put in my next dog. I had ID tags on the dog that ran away, but those can easily fall off or be removed by someone. With a microchip you know it will always be with them. Most vets will scan a dog they are not familiar with to see if they have a microchip in them.

While this isn't a guarantee, I feel a lot better about having this security. I think it cost me around $30 at the time and felt like it was a small price to pay. Nothing has happened yet where I have needed the microchip, but I like having the insurance just in case.

I am glad they have the option available for microchips for dogs. My vet is the one who placed it in my dog, and it only took a couple of seconds. I then sent the information to the American Kennel Club where I had my dog registered so they had a record of it as well.

By John57 — On Nov 05, 2012

@anon178735 -- I also didn't realize microchips have been around that long. I am dating myself here, but I remember when microwave ovens first became popular and the microchip was around even before that. Today it would seem very strange not to see a microwave in every kitchen, but I remember growing up without one. Somehow we got along just fine, but I would sure miss mine if I didn't have it since I use it several times a day.

By anon178735 — On May 22, 2011

Wow! I never knew that such technology was invented in 1958. Now I can see it is very important.

By JillT — On Feb 14, 2011

@Kalley – That is amazing. I know someone whose life was saved because she had a microchip inserted in them that contained her important medical information. One day she was out running errands and passed out. When she came to, she was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. When she got to the emergency room, doctors were able to use the information on the microchip to find out that she had a history of epileptic seizures. They then ran the appropriate tests to determine if she had a seizure in this case, and they concluded that she did because one of her medication levels came back low. They increased the level of her medication and she is doing much better now.

By Kalley — On Feb 12, 2011

It’s amazing how much microchip technology has evolved. I know someone who had a microchip inserted in between their dog’s shoulders. The microchip contained her contact information in case the dog ever ran away. I originally thought it was a stupid waste of money, but it ended up being a great investment for her because just a few weeks later, the dog disappeared. Someone found the dog and took it to a shelter, where the dog was scanned. Employees at the shelter were able to use the information in the microchip to contact my friend and let her know they found the dog.

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