A team of professors and students at the University of Tennessee developed the ultra tough microchips used to control motors on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity. Eighty of these paperclip-sized Quad Operational Amplifier (op amp) microchips are used to power the rover’s forty motors. The chips enable Curiosity to carry out motorized tasks including moving about the Martian surface, taking photos with its camera, or gathering samples with its robotic arm. The team engineered the chip to withstand over a year’s worth of radiation exposure and temperatures swings ranging from minus 120 degrees Celsius to positive 20 degrees Celsius, which occur on Mars each day. The team completed a variety of rigorous tests on the chips, including baking them in thermal ovens to ensure that they could stand up to the extreme temperatures. These amazing microchips are a culmination of three years of effort by the engineering team.
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