65 Years Ago The Transistor Jump-Started The World Of Modern Technology

Illustration for article titled 65 Years Ago The Transistor Jump-Started The World Of Modern Technology

65 years ago, December 16th 1947, William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain operated the first ever working point-contact transistor, almost known as the iotatron. Now, so many years later, we rely on the descendants of that transistor as a part of practically all of the high tech electronic devices we use every day.


While the anniversary of the first working point-contact transistor is today, the actual research behind the component reaches all the way back to 1925 at least, when similar components were patented. It wasn't until after World War II however, that Bell Labs was really able to get down to business and actually make one that worked, developing what might be the most important invention of the 20th century. The rest is history.


The point-contact transistor itself is a bit different from the integrated transistors we benefit from today, but it was the first, important step in moving towards a world of stable and compact computers that aren't reliant on bulky, unreliable vacuum tubes. So happy birthday to that tiny component you're probably making use of right now. Keep on transistin'; we couldn't live without you. [The Register]

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William Shockley (seated at the microscope) was a genius said to rival Einstein. He headed the Solid State Physics Group at Bell Labs whose work was focused on finding a replacement for vacuum tubes in telephone service. Most of the actual development was done by Bardeen and Brattain; Shockley was their boss, providing input as needed. The three won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention in 1956. In his acceptance speech Shockley gave the other two full credit for the invention in the point-contact transistor.

Shockley left Bell Labs in 1955 to found Shockley Semiconductor Labs. Much business drama ensued, but this was the start of Silicon Valley and all the advances that took place there. Eight of Shockley's key engineers left in 1957 to found Fairchild Semiconductor. Some of them later left Fairchild and founded Intel, and the rest is history.

The name "transistor" was developed by John Pierce. Noting that while vacuum tubes work on the principle of "transconductance", the new device did the same thing using "trans-resistance". So, it was a transfer resistor, or transistor.