Moon Museum Update

By The History Detectives Team
23 June 2011
Category: Follow Up

Many creatives dedicated their time and artistic energy to making the Moon Museum. Two of those people were Bell Laboratories engineers Bob Merkle and Burt Unger.

Brought into the project by Fred Waldhauer, Bob and Burt were responsible for physically getting the six artist sketches onto the small ceramic chip so it could be affixed to the Apollo 12 Lander and blast to the moon.

To do so, they used technology available to them at Bell Labs for making microcircuits.

Twelve ceramic chips were made at one time by photo-reducing the six sketches down to the correct size to fit on the chip and then repeating the pattern twelve times.  The twelve identical “canvases” were then developed onto a piece of glass – called a mask.

Then, a piece of ceramic the size of the mask was cleaned and prepared by coating it with a thin layer of metallic tantalum nitride, and then a layer of a light sensitive material called photo resist. 

The mask and ceramic were then exposed to light, leaving the mask’s pattern etched onto the ceramic.

Here Bob describes the process as similar to ordinary camera film processing where:

1. A metalized ceramic substrate coated with photo resist is akin to "film" coated with an emulsion.

2. A patterned glass plate, the patterning element for the ceramic, is akin to a camera lens transferring an image to film.

3. A light source activating the photo-resist coating on the ceramic is akin to activating the emulsion on film.

4. A pattern developed upon the ceramic using a solvent is AKIN to "developing" a pattern on film using a solvent.

Here is where the similarity ends:

In the case of the ceramic, the pattern will exposed the metalized layer to an acid etch removing it to the bare ceramic.  Subsequent cleaning and baking of the remaining metal patterns on the ceramic stabilizes the layer by oxidation and gives it the deep blue color.

In the case of the camera film, which is called a "negative", subsequent processing converts the image into a "positive" print, which we can view.

After making two ceramics – or twenty four chips (sawed apart with a diamond wheel) Burt says he broke the glass mask to prevent the production of more chips.

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