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06/29/2005

The Gentle Giant

Last week, the inventor of the integrated circuit, Jack Kilby, died
at the age of 81. I had planned to devote just a paragraph or two
to Kilby’s passing in this column but decided the story behind
Kilby’s invention and the computerized world that followed
warrants the whole column. Much of what follows has been
covered in bits and pieces in earlier columns but I think it’s
worth bringing them together in an acknowledgement of Kilby’s
important role in all our lives. Some of my sources include four
articles from the June 22 issues of the Washington Post, New
York and Los Angeles Times and the book “ Crystal Fire” co-
edited by Michael Riordan, who signed my personal copy.

Kilby was known for his modest, self-effacing manner. He
credited Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes with a story that
Kilby felt described his own contribution. A beaver was
gnawing on a branch just below Hoover dam, when someone
happened by and, looking up in awe at the massive structure,
asked the beaver, “Did you build that thing?” The beaver
replied, “Well, it’s kind of based on an idea of mine.” In that
sense, Kilby’s first crude electronic circuit on a piece of
germanium paved the way for today’s wondrous silicon chip.

Let’s go back to the 1950s and Bell Labs to set the scene for
Kilby’s invention. The transistor was invented in 1947 using a
piece of germanium. To make a transistor you need an n-p-n or
p-n-p structure, in which n stood for material with excess
electrons and p for a deficiency of electrons. You could make
such a structure by adding impurities during crystal growth; for
example, aluminum had too few electrons, while antimony had
an excess. You could accomplish the same thing by varying the
rate at which you pulled the growing crystal out of the melt.
Another method involved growing a crystal with p-n junctions,
cutting out that material and placing a little piece of, say,
aluminum on the n-type material. By melting the aluminum, you
dissolve some germanium and, on cooling, a p-type germanium
layer grows back and you have a p-n-p structure.

None of these approaches was suitable for economical mass
production of transistors. You can imagine how wasteful of
germanium it was to try to slice up a crystal at just the right place
to contain the thin p- and n-type structures. Also, germanium
was not as good as silicon as far as its electrical properties were
concerned. However, silicon is a much tougher material to make
and work with, partly due to the higher temperatures to grow and
work with silicon. I can vouch for this, having worked with both
materials.

However, in 1955 two very important events took place at Bell
Labs. Carl Frosch and Lincoln Derick found that you could
make thin silicon dioxide films on the surface of silicon that were
insulating and very stable. This extremely important discovery
gets its full due after Kilby’s invention. Germanium does not
form such an oxide.

The second event involved Morris Tanenbaum, with whom I am
having lunch tomorrow, coincidentally. Morry obtained some
silicon from Cal Fuller, a co-inventor of the silicon solar cell that
powers our satellites. Fuller was the world’s expert on diffusion
of impurities in germanium and silicon. He could control how
fast and how far an impurity would travel into silicon. Fuller had
done something neat – he had “double-diffused” into n-type
silicon both antimony and aluminum. Aluminum diffuses in
faster than the antimony. So, the surface layer of the silicon
stayed n-type and just below that was a thin layer of p-type
material, where the aluminum had raced ahead of the antimony.
The rest of the crystal was n-type, an n-p-n structure, the right
structure for a transistor. Tanenbaum, who had made the first
silicon transistor the old fashioned way, took Fuller’s material to
make the first good so-called “diffused-base” silicon transistor.

Jack Morton, vice president in charge of device development,
was on a business trip in Europe at the time. When he heard the
news of Tanenbaum’s diffused-base transistor, he canceled his
plans and returned home. Morton decreed that henceforth silicon
was the material and diffusion was the technology for any future
transistor development in the Bell System. The silicon age was
launched.

In January 1956, Bell Labs held a transistor symposium that Jack
Kilby attended as a representative of Globe-Union, which had
purchased a patent license for the transistor. Kilby heard about
the diffused-base transistor and other developments and went
back to Globe-Union thinking about how to miniaturize
electronic devices. Globe-Union did not have the resources for
Kilby’s to pursue his ideas and he moved Texas Instruments.

Shortly after his arrival in 1958, the plant shut down for
vacation; however, the newly arrived Kilby didn’t qualify for any
vacation and found himself virtually alone in the TI facility.
During that time he came up with the idea that, as expressed in
his notebook, “Extreme miniaturization of many electrical
circuits could be achieved by making resistors, capacitors and
transistors & diodes on a single slice of silicon.” How prophetic
a statement was that?!

When the troops came back from vacation, Kilby told his new
boss, Willis Adcock, of his idea. Adcock suggested Kilby test
his idea by wiring up individual silicon components and see if an
oscillator circuit would work. Kilby did that and it worked.
However, TI hadn’t really gotten into the swing of diffusing
silicon. Kilby was forced to make his circuit on diffused
germanium. He obtained a half-inch long rod of diffused
germanium that had one lone transistor on it and a p-n junction
that he used as a capacitor. He used the germanium itself as a
resistor. He connected the components with tiny gold wires. It,
like the first transistor, was not pretty but, on September 12,
1958, 10 volts were applied to it and it worked. Within a week,
another circuit was made on germanium with two transistors and
it worked.

In California, Robert Noyce at Fairchild was thinking not so
much about individual devices on a slice of silicon but about the
wires connecting them. If you have a lot of devices on a slice of
silicon, hand wiring connections to all of them is a pain, costly
and, with lots of devices could be impossible. But the folks at
Fairchild knew about that oxide layer of Frosch and Derick at
Bell Labs and a fellow named Hoerni had devised a “planar”
process that embedded the devices under a layer of that oxide.

Noyce thought why not lay down fine lines of metal on top of the
insulating oxide layer and make contact with the silicon through
metal deposited in holes etched in the oxide. A technique known
as photolithography made this eminently possible. The silicon
chip was on its way. Noyce and Gordon Moore left Fairchild to
form Intel, became billionaires and the rest is history. There was
a period when the Noyce and Kilby teams feuded over who was
really first with the integrated circuit but it was finally settled
amicably. Kilby made the first one and Noyce made
manufacture possible; the beaver and the dam builder.

Kilby didn’t make billions from his idea but did get many
prestigious awards including the Robert Noyce Award from the
Semiconductor Industry Association! When he received the
Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, Kilby invited Gordon Moore to
attend; Noyce had died and the Nobel is only granted to the
living. Among other honors, Kilby received the National Medal
of Science and Japan’s Kyoto Prize for the betterment of
mankind.

Kilby was known at TI as the “gentle giant”, a reference to his 6-
foot-6 stature. His imposing stature led to a most embarrassing
moment for me. I wrote of the incident some years ago but it
bears repeating. In 1997, Bell Labs held a celebration of the 50th
anniversary of the invention of the transistor. During a coffee
break, I noticed George Dacey, a former Bell Labs physicist I
hadn’t seen in over 20 years. George was also a fellow of
considerable stature and I had voted for him as a shareholder at
the time of W. R. Grace; George was on the Board of Directors.

So, I sidled up to George, introduced myself and recalled old
times and told him of my voting for him. George responded
pleasantly and took my voting comments in stride. It was only
later, when he got up to give his talk in the auditorium that I
realized “George” was Jack Kilby! Aside from the stature, there
was no facial resemblance but, looking up from my 5-foot-9
vantage point, my vision was distorted. In his talk, Kilby told of
his visit to Bell Labs and his impression of the brilliant Bell Labs
scientists, describing them as unlike any humans he had met
before. Obviously, he didn’t meet me during that visit! I did get
a chance after his talk to apologize for my faux pas and never
saw Kilby again. He was indeed a gentle giant, quite happy to
have been the beaver whose little circuit on a chip has evolved
into a world of communication unimaginable in 1958.

Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

06/29/2005

The Gentle Giant

Last week, the inventor of the integrated circuit, Jack Kilby, died
at the age of 81. I had planned to devote just a paragraph or two
to Kilby’s passing in this column but decided the story behind
Kilby’s invention and the computerized world that followed
warrants the whole column. Much of what follows has been
covered in bits and pieces in earlier columns but I think it’s
worth bringing them together in an acknowledgement of Kilby’s
important role in all our lives. Some of my sources include four
articles from the June 22 issues of the Washington Post, New
York and Los Angeles Times and the book “ Crystal Fire” co-
edited by Michael Riordan, who signed my personal copy.

Kilby was known for his modest, self-effacing manner. He
credited Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes with a story that
Kilby felt described his own contribution. A beaver was
gnawing on a branch just below Hoover dam, when someone
happened by and, looking up in awe at the massive structure,
asked the beaver, “Did you build that thing?” The beaver
replied, “Well, it’s kind of based on an idea of mine.” In that
sense, Kilby’s first crude electronic circuit on a piece of
germanium paved the way for today’s wondrous silicon chip.

Let’s go back to the 1950s and Bell Labs to set the scene for
Kilby’s invention. The transistor was invented in 1947 using a
piece of germanium. To make a transistor you need an n-p-n or
p-n-p structure, in which n stood for material with excess
electrons and p for a deficiency of electrons. You could make
such a structure by adding impurities during crystal growth; for
example, aluminum had too few electrons, while antimony had
an excess. You could accomplish the same thing by varying the
rate at which you pulled the growing crystal out of the melt.
Another method involved growing a crystal with p-n junctions,
cutting out that material and placing a little piece of, say,
aluminum on the n-type material. By melting the aluminum, you
dissolve some germanium and, on cooling, a p-type germanium
layer grows back and you have a p-n-p structure.

None of these approaches was suitable for economical mass
production of transistors. You can imagine how wasteful of
germanium it was to try to slice up a crystal at just the right place
to contain the thin p- and n-type structures. Also, germanium
was not as good as silicon as far as its electrical properties were
concerned. However, silicon is a much tougher material to make
and work with, partly due to the higher temperatures to grow and
work with silicon. I can vouch for this, having worked with both
materials.

However, in 1955 two very important events took place at Bell
Labs. Carl Frosch and Lincoln Derick found that you could
make thin silicon dioxide films on the surface of silicon that were
insulating and very stable. This extremely important discovery
gets its full due after Kilby’s invention. Germanium does not
form such an oxide.

The second event involved Morris Tanenbaum, with whom I am
having lunch tomorrow, coincidentally. Morry obtained some
silicon from Cal Fuller, a co-inventor of the silicon solar cell that
powers our satellites. Fuller was the world’s expert on diffusion
of impurities in germanium and silicon. He could control how
fast and how far an impurity would travel into silicon. Fuller had
done something neat – he had “double-diffused” into n-type
silicon both antimony and aluminum. Aluminum diffuses in
faster than the antimony. So, the surface layer of the silicon
stayed n-type and just below that was a thin layer of p-type
material, where the aluminum had raced ahead of the antimony.
The rest of the crystal was n-type, an n-p-n structure, the right
structure for a transistor. Tanenbaum, who had made the first
silicon transistor the old fashioned way, took Fuller’s material to
make the first good so-called “diffused-base” silicon transistor.

Jack Morton, vice president in charge of device development,
was on a business trip in Europe at the time. When he heard the
news of Tanenbaum’s diffused-base transistor, he canceled his
plans and returned home. Morton decreed that henceforth silicon
was the material and diffusion was the technology for any future
transistor development in the Bell System. The silicon age was
launched.

In January 1956, Bell Labs held a transistor symposium that Jack
Kilby attended as a representative of Globe-Union, which had
purchased a patent license for the transistor. Kilby heard about
the diffused-base transistor and other developments and went
back to Globe-Union thinking about how to miniaturize
electronic devices. Globe-Union did not have the resources for
Kilby’s to pursue his ideas and he moved Texas Instruments.

Shortly after his arrival in 1958, the plant shut down for
vacation; however, the newly arrived Kilby didn’t qualify for any
vacation and found himself virtually alone in the TI facility.
During that time he came up with the idea that, as expressed in
his notebook, “Extreme miniaturization of many electrical
circuits could be achieved by making resistors, capacitors and
transistors & diodes on a single slice of silicon.” How prophetic
a statement was that?!

When the troops came back from vacation, Kilby told his new
boss, Willis Adcock, of his idea. Adcock suggested Kilby test
his idea by wiring up individual silicon components and see if an
oscillator circuit would work. Kilby did that and it worked.
However, TI hadn’t really gotten into the swing of diffusing
silicon. Kilby was forced to make his circuit on diffused
germanium. He obtained a half-inch long rod of diffused
germanium that had one lone transistor on it and a p-n junction
that he used as a capacitor. He used the germanium itself as a
resistor. He connected the components with tiny gold wires. It,
like the first transistor, was not pretty but, on September 12,
1958, 10 volts were applied to it and it worked. Within a week,
another circuit was made on germanium with two transistors and
it worked.

In California, Robert Noyce at Fairchild was thinking not so
much about individual devices on a slice of silicon but about the
wires connecting them. If you have a lot of devices on a slice of
silicon, hand wiring connections to all of them is a pain, costly
and, with lots of devices could be impossible. But the folks at
Fairchild knew about that oxide layer of Frosch and Derick at
Bell Labs and a fellow named Hoerni had devised a “planar”
process that embedded the devices under a layer of that oxide.

Noyce thought why not lay down fine lines of metal on top of the
insulating oxide layer and make contact with the silicon through
metal deposited in holes etched in the oxide. A technique known
as photolithography made this eminently possible. The silicon
chip was on its way. Noyce and Gordon Moore left Fairchild to
form Intel, became billionaires and the rest is history. There was
a period when the Noyce and Kilby teams feuded over who was
really first with the integrated circuit but it was finally settled
amicably. Kilby made the first one and Noyce made
manufacture possible; the beaver and the dam builder.

Kilby didn’t make billions from his idea but did get many
prestigious awards including the Robert Noyce Award from the
Semiconductor Industry Association! When he received the
Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, Kilby invited Gordon Moore to
attend; Noyce had died and the Nobel is only granted to the
living. Among other honors, Kilby received the National Medal
of Science and Japan’s Kyoto Prize for the betterment of
mankind.

Kilby was known at TI as the “gentle giant”, a reference to his 6-
foot-6 stature. His imposing stature led to a most embarrassing
moment for me. I wrote of the incident some years ago but it
bears repeating. In 1997, Bell Labs held a celebration of the 50th
anniversary of the invention of the transistor. During a coffee
break, I noticed George Dacey, a former Bell Labs physicist I
hadn’t seen in over 20 years. George was also a fellow of
considerable stature and I had voted for him as a shareholder at
the time of W. R. Grace; George was on the Board of Directors.

So, I sidled up to George, introduced myself and recalled old
times and told him of my voting for him. George responded
pleasantly and took my voting comments in stride. It was only
later, when he got up to give his talk in the auditorium that I
realized “George” was Jack Kilby! Aside from the stature, there
was no facial resemblance but, looking up from my 5-foot-9
vantage point, my vision was distorted. In his talk, Kilby told of
his visit to Bell Labs and his impression of the brilliant Bell Labs
scientists, describing them as unlike any humans he had met
before. Obviously, he didn’t meet me during that visit! I did get
a chance after his talk to apologize for my faux pas and never
saw Kilby again. He was indeed a gentle giant, quite happy to
have been the beaver whose little circuit on a chip has evolved
into a world of communication unimaginable in 1958.

Allen F. Bortrum