Feeds

Happy birthday, Transistor

The first working version powered up 65 years ago

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Nobel team

Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain won the Nobel Prize for Physics “for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect” in 1956, almost two years after their work resulted in the release of the first transistor radio.

Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain

From Bell to Nobel: Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain

These early transistors were used primarily to amplify an analog signal, which they were better able to achieve - certainly in a much smaller space - than circuits based on thermionic valves. Only much later, after Jack Kilby (1923-2005) and Robert Noyce (1927-1990) combined transistors into the first integrated circuit chip, in 1958, did the potential in the transistor's ability to operate as a switch begin to be realised.

Transistors operating as current switches could be combined to form logic gates and when they were, the basic foundations of modern digital circuitry were born. Put a number of these gates together into an integrated circuit and you have the basis for a computer. Put enough of them together and you have a microprocessor, which Intel released in 1971 as the 2300-transistor 4004.

These days, processors contain hundreds of millions of transistors, making up their maths units, control systems and on-board memory banks.

The Transistor's Real Inventor?

Years before the work of Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain, German physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld (1881-1963) obtained three US patents that covered the principles on which the field-effect transistor operates. A few years later, fellow German physicist Oskar Heil (1908-1994) was granted a field-effect device patent of his own. Should Lilienfeld and Heil be credited as the fathers of the transistor?

Heil's patent was granted in the UK on 6 December 1935 and derived from an application made on 4 March the previous year, in Germany and in Britain, where Heil was working. Lilienfeld's first patent - “Method and Apparatus for Controlling Electric Currents” - was granted in the US on 28 January 1930, four years after it was filed, on 8 October 1926. Lilienfeld's second patent - “Device for Controlling Electric Current” - was filed on 28 March 1928 and granted on 7 March 1933.

Lilienfeld’s devices have since been made and show to work as he predicted, but it’s not known whether he himself made one. Or Heil, for that matter. We'll probably never know if they did, which leaves Bardeen and Brattain credited as the men who made the first working transistor.

They applied for patent to protect their discovery on 17 June 1948. It was granted on 3 October 1950.

Lilienfeld's transistor

Lilienfeld’s field-effect transistor

It has been claimed that Shockley, for one, was aware of Lilienfeld’s work, and built a working version of a Lilienfeld transistor. However, Shockley never referred to either Heil or Lilienfeld’s work in his own research papers.

And then there are German physicists Herbert Mataré (1912-2011) and Heinrich Welker (1912-1981), who created a point-contact transistor of their own during 1948. By June of that year, they had begun to obtain consistent amplification - only to learn, a month later, that Bell Labs’ team had beaten them to it some six months previously.

That didn't stop them putting their “transistron” into production, but like Bardeen and Brattain’s design, it would soon be superseded by Shockley’s junction transistor. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Chipmaker FTDI bricking counterfeit kit
USB-serial imitators whacked by driver update
Xperia Z3: Crikey, Sony – ANOTHER flagship phondleslab?
The Fourth Amendment... and it IS better
DOUBLE BONK: Testy fanbois catch Apple Pay picking pockets
Users wail as tapcash transactions are duplicated
Microsoft to enter the STRUGGLE of the HUMAN WRIST
It's not just a thumb war, it's total digit war
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.