The transistor turns 60
Birthday on Sunday
Forgotten Tech The transistor, the ubiquitous building block of all electronic circuits, will be 60 years old on Sunday. The device is jointly credited to William Shockley (1910-1989), John Bardeen (1908-1991) and Walter Brattain (1902-1987), and it was Bardeen and Brattain who made the first working point-contact transistor on 16 December 1947.
The name wasn't coined until the following year. Bell Labs employee John R Pierce (1910-2002) thought up the moniker, and in May 1948 his colleagues, who'd been presented with a list of suggestions, opted for his.
"This is an abbreviated combination of the words 'transconductance' or 'transfer', and 'varistor'," Bell Labs' voting paper put it at the time.
Bardeen and Brattain's transistor, as replicated in 1997
The team's work goes back to the late-1930s, but the real work didn't begin until after the end of World War II. Shockley proposed a field-effect transistor design that would be made out of thin slices of different semiconductors, including silicon, sandwiched together. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get this design to work the way his maths anticipated, and so Bardeen and Brattain chose to investigate the simpler, surface-effect point-contact design.
The two men produced the first point-contact transistor by attaching two gold-foil point contacts to a piece of germanium, itself mounted on a metal base. The gold sheets were kept apart with a wedge of plastic. Originally a single sheet of gold, the very closely-sited contacts were made by slicing the sheet at the apex of the triangle.
This time it worked, and Bardeen and Brattain were able to extend their apparatus with circuitry able to amplify sound signals, much to the delight of their Bell Labs bosses.
The company would go on to put the point-contact transistor into limited production, announcing the device to the public on 1 July 1948. By then, Shockley had already developed an alternative design and the point-contact device's successor: the bipolar junction transistor. His invention, built and tested in January 1948, made for a more compact design and proved, in time, to be easier to manufacture than the bulky point-contact transistor.
It went on to become the basis for all the transistors used in electronics products right up until the broad use of Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology in the late 1960s following the discovery of the MOS by Bell Labs' John Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959, though the patent wasn't applied for until 31 May 1960 - and granted on 27 August 1963.
The vacuum tube was invented and patent-applied a year before de Forest by an Austrian gentleman in Vienna. History repeating ...
We're all 9 months older today...
as Reg readers decide to redefine "birth" as "conception".
The birth of trasistor was properly dated to the first successful construction of the device, not to the first conception of the idea.
Transistor approaches 100 years old ?
Couple of points here:
I have just looked at Lilienfeld's 1930 transistor patent, applied for in 1926, US1745175 which is available on line from the EPO ep.espacenet.com . It even gives a circuit diagram for a transistor radio. The transistor itself seems to be a FET rather than an NPN junction transistor.
There is an even earlier transistor patent dating from 1911, which was cited by the British patent office when they were examining the Schockley / Bell labs case. That one is a three terminal point contact device. Unfortunately I do not remember the number or the inventor. Does anyone else have details?
Switch me on, baby
I understood that Bell were only really interested in the transformer as a switch initially. As a result, they sold the rights for amplifier use to the nascent Sony for a handful of beans. Shortly afterwards Sony produced the first all-transistor radio and then the all-transistor television ...
We should also remember vacuum tubes
Which are (almost) 100 years old as well. Any way you can amplify a signal works for me. If I were doing it from scratch and knowing about vacuum tubes AND transistors, I'd pick vacuum tubes as they would be easier to make. Yes, hotter, and bulkier, but easier to make.
Look I'm the USA, and we call them vacuum tubes here, not "valves".
I don't have the exact date of Lee DeForest's invention with me at the moment so the 100 year difference may be off by a couple either way.