Menu Close

EN | Personajes ilustres – Bardeen

Bardeen, John (1908 - 1991)

John Bardeen was born in Madison, Wisconsin on May 23th 1908.

He studied at Madison Central High School. After graduation in 1923, he enrolled in electrical engineering at Wisconsin University, where he signed up for reinforcement courses in physics and mathematics. He took time off to work in the engineering department at the Chicago Western Electric Company, but still graduated in 1928.
He spent the next two years working as a research assistant in electrical engineering at Wisconsin University, researching mathematical problems applied to geophysics and antenna radiation.

Professor Leo J. Peters, under whom John had done his geophysics research, took a position at Gulf Oil Research Laboratories, and John left to work with him. For the three next years, he researched methods for interpreting geophysical and magnetic effects. These works were later to be used in oil prospecting. However, he had a preference for theoretical research and he left to research his doctoral thesis on solid state physics, cohesion and metals electrical conductivity at Princeton University.

From 1938 to 1941, now a doctor, he worked as an assistant physics professor at Minnesota University.

When World War II broke out, he was conscripted and destined to the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, where he helped to develop protection systems for ships and submarines against magnetic mines and torpedoes.

After the war, he returned to the Minnesota lecture theatres, where he was reunited with an old high school friend, William Shockley. Shockley put him into touch with Bell Laboratories, where they were setting up a new solid state research group, which he was to lead. Bell Labs offered to double his salary, and Bardeen immediately accepted.

Shockley was not the only member of the working group who knew Bardeen. Another great friend from his university years was on the team: Walter Brattain. While they were working at Bell Labs, Brattain and Bardeen spent a lot of their time together doing what they liked most: outside working hours they were keen golfers, and, at work, Brattain developed the experiments and Bardeen the theories to explain their results.

His work was based on the radio research. In particular, they works into crystal amplifiers. In 23th December 1947, they testing with various materials, were able to control the germanium semiconductor behavior. They had built the first transistor. Shockley, relates that a colleague suggested calling the invention ‘persistor’ instead of ‘transistor’, as it would never have been invented without the long-time perseverance of semiconductor researchers.

In 1956, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley received the Nobel Prize for Physics for their invention.

After the invention of the transistor, the good working atmosphere that had reigned in the lab melted away, because Shockley thought that Bardeen and Brattain did not really regard him as one of the inventors. Bardeen put up with the poor working atmosphere for four years before leaving for Illinois University with the offer of researching any field of his choice.

In 1957, Bardeen, Leon Neil Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer proposed the first satisfactory explanation of superconductivity, which had been a puzzle since its discovery in 1908. They received the 1972 Nobel Prize for Physics for their theory, known ever since as “BCS theory”, the initials of their surnames. This was Bardeen’s second Nobel Prize in just sixteen years.

John Bardeen died on 30 January 1991.