Integrated Circuits (Microchips)

In early electronic computers, each circuit involved a vacuum tube. They were large, relatively slow, and consumed a lot of power.

Shockley, Brattain, and Bardeen created the semiconductor. Their circuits eliminated the need for vacuum tubes.

Kilby and Noyce discovered that semiconducting material held burned-in semiconductor circuits. Their printed circuits worked like the much larger metal counterparts. Furthermore, many circuits could be printed and tied together with a single piece of silicon.

These collections of circuits integrated on one chip are what we today refer to as microchips. You are reading this thanks to Kilby and Noyce’s invention.

Kilby worked for Texas Instruments. Noyce was one of the Traitorous Eight, the group who left the abusive, managerially incompetent Shockley. He was working at Fairchild Semiconductor, the firm funded by Doriot student Arthur Rock.

Kilby and Noyce never worked together but, at the same time, addressed the same problem. Kilby, tasked with shrinking the size of a semiconductor, thought of creating it from semiconducting material. He used geranium. Noyce realized that silicon worked better and that multiple circuits could be etched on one silicon wafer.

Their Integrated Circuit won the Nobel Prize in 2000 and went on to change the world. Noyce passed away in 1990 so only Kilby was eligible for the prize. Neither claimed sole credit nor disparaged the other.

Consequently, Kilby, a prolific innovator, was rewarded as an employee and led a comfortable life. Meanwhile, Noyce left Fairchild, co-founded Intel, and died a billionaire.


Semiconductors are solid-state electronic replacements for vacuum tubes. They vastly enhanced productivity and lowered cost. Semiconductors also lowered the amount of electricity computers, or any equipment that ran on tubes, required.

In 1947, John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Water Brattain co-invented the semiconductor while working at Bell Labs for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1956. Shockley went on to commercialize the business by forming the Shockley Semiconductor Company, in Mountain View, California, in 1956.

Shockley was a brilliant technologist but a less than stellar manager. His authoritarian management style alienated a number of key employees. Additionally, Shockley was a horrible person, an outspoken white supremacist and eugenicist.

Eventually, eight key employees quit together to first join Fairchild Semiconductor, a firm set up by Doriot student Arthur Rock. The Traitorous Eight included Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last.

Subsequently, they left to start their own firms. Those companies – chipmakers Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and the venture capital firm Kleiner-Perkins among them – were significantly more successful than Shockley’s business.

Bardeen is the only person to have won two Nobel Prizes, a later one for superconductors. Bardeen and Brattain went on to academic careers as did Shockley, after the failure of Shockley Semiconductor. Despite being, by every account, a horrible person, a group of early Silicon Valley engineers declared that “Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley.”