Shockley, William Bradford (1910-1989)
The inventor of the junction transistor, received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956.
William Shockley was born in London on 13 February 1910. His parents, of American nationality, lived for several years in England for professional reasons. When he was two years old, they returned to California, where he grew up. From a very early age, he showed a great interest in science, motivated by his father who was a mining engineer and a neighbour who was a physics professor at Stanford.
In 1932, he graduated from the California Institute of Technology and completed his PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936.
He started work at Bell Labs researching into solid state physics, specifically vacuum tubes, where he made important theoretical contributions to the use of electronic switches in telephony. During the Second World War, he worked on the enhancement of radar systems. At the end of the war he went back to solid state research, where one of his greatest contributions was to apply quantum theory to semiconductor development.
In 1947, together with his colleagues John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, he built the first semiconductor amplifier device, which they called transistor (TRANSfer resISTOR). He pursued this research and finally obtained a method that made them easier to manufacture. His idea set a precedent for silicon chip design.
In 1955, he left Bell Laboratories to join Beckman Instruments Inc. He founded the Schockley Semiconductors Laboratory at Palo Alto, where he developed transistors and other devices. The laboratory became a Beckman subsidiary in 1958 and, after changing hands several times, closed in 1968.
In 1956, he received the Nobel Prize for Physics with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain for the development of the transistor, which helped to make electronic devices smaller, reliable and even cheaper.
He was a professor at Stanford University and consultant to several companies from 1958 until his retirement in February 1975.
In 1963, he was appointed Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and, after retirement, became emeritus professor.
In 1974, he was included into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
In 1980, he received the IEEE Medal of Honour.
William Shockley died on 12 August 1989.