A Tale of Two Brains

by James Redin

History


"Jack Kilby's work spawned the microelectronics revolution that has changed forever the way we live, work, and communicate."

George H. Heilmeier, Bell Communications Research.


They were born four years apart in two distant places, and yet they were destined to start a technological revolution that changed the world. Without knowing each other, through two independent paths, both invented, almost at the same time, the Integrated Circuit (IC).

Robert Norton NoyceJack Kilby in 1958Jack St Clair Kilby was born November 8, 1923 in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1947 he received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and later, in 1950, a MSc from the University of Wisconsin.

Robert Norton Noyce was born December 12, 1927 in Burlington, Iowa. He graduated from Grinnell College in 1949 and received his PhD in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.

Between 1947 and 1958, Jack Kilby worked at the Centralab Division of Globe Union Inc. in Milwaukee. His main responsibility were the design of ceramic-base silk screen circuit boards. Then, in 1958, he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas.

Between 1953 and 1956, Robert Noyce worked as research engineer for Philco Corporation. Then, in 1956 he joined William B. Shockley, at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California. In 1957, with other friends, he founded Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation.

In those days, electrical engineers were aware on the potential of digital electronics, however, they faced a big limitation known as the "Tyranny of Numbers." This was the metaphor that described the exponentially increasing number of components required to design improved circuits, against the physical limitations derived from the number of components that could be assembled together. Both, Kilby at Texas Instruments, and Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor, were working on a solution to this problem during 1958 and 1959.

First Integrated CircuitThe solution was found in the monolithic (meaning formed from a single crystal) integrated circuit. Instead of designing smaller components, they found the way to fabricate entire networks of discrete components in a single sequence by laying them into a single crystal (chip) of semiconductor material. Kilby used germanium and Noyce used silicon.

Texas Instruments filed for a patent in February 1959. Fairchild Semiconductor did the same in July 1959. Naturally, both firms engaged in a legal battle that lasted through the decade of the 60's until they decided to cross-license their technologies.

First Electronic Handheld CalculatorThe Patent No. 3,138,743 for Miniaturized Electronic Circuits, were issued to Jack S. Kilby and Texas Instruments in 1964. Currently, Kilby holds patents on sixty inventions, including the invention of the electronic hand-held calculator in 1967. In 1970 he was awarded the National Medal of Science, and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1982. Currently, Jack Kilby is a consultant with Houston Advanced Research Center.

The Patent No. 2,981,877 for the silicon based IC was granted to Robert Noyce, who later, in 1968 founded INTEL, the company responsible for the invention of the microprocessor. Dr. Noyce was issued 16 patents in the area of semiconductors, and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1983. He died on June 3, 1990.

In October 10, 2000, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Jack Kilby  the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2000 "for basic work on information and communication technology."

The invention of Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, also known as "the chip", has been recognized as one of the most important innovations and significant achievements in the history of humankind.

 

Sources:

T. R. Reid, The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Texas Instruments, "Jack S. Kilby Biographical Data,"

Texas Instruments, "Jack St. Clair Kilby,"

Inventure Place,  http://www.invent.org/ Akron, Ohio.

Stan Augarten, "Bit by Bit - An Illustrated History of Computers," Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1984.

G. Harry Stine, "The Untold Story of the Computer Revolution - Bits, Bytes, Bauds, and Brains," Arbor House, New York.

Pictures: The Kilby Center.


Copyright James Redin - Feb 2004 - Revised: May 29, 2006.
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