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Shockley, William Bradford

junction transistor current germanium

(1910–89) US physicist: invented the junction transistor.

The son of two American mining engineers, and born in London, Shockley was educated at the California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began work at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1936, directed US anti-submarine warfare research (1942–4) and served as consultant to the secretary for war in 1945.

After returning to Bell Laboratories at the end of the war Shockley collaborated with in trying to produce semiconductor devices to replace vacuum tubes. It had long been known that some crystals (eg PbS) would act as rectifiers (ie would pass current in only one direction). However, diodes (then known as valves in the UK) had replaced these. The new work showed that germanium crystals were better rectifiers, their effect depending on traces of impurity. Using a germanium rectifier with metal contacts including a needle touching the crystal, they invented the point-contact transistor (1947). A month later Shockley developed the junction transistor ( trans fer of current across a res istor ) which uses the junction between two differently treated parts of a silicon crystal; such solid-state semiconductors can both rectify and amplify current. These small, reliable devices led to the miniaturization of circuits in radio, TV and computer equipment. Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain shared a Nobel Prize in 1956. From 1963 Shockley was a professor of engineering at Stanford.

After 1965 Shockley became a controversial figure through his support of the view that intelligence is largely hereditary and that the rapid reproduction of some racial groups can damage the intelligence of the overall population.

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