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Brattain, Walter (Houser)

bell transistor germanium surfaces

(1902–87) US physicist: co-inventor of the transistor.

Born in China, Brattain grew up in the state of Washington on a cattle ranch, and gained his PhD in physics at Minnesota in 1929. In the same year he joined the talented team at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and soon began work on the surface properties of semiconductors; at first he used copper(I) oxide, but during the Second World War silicon became available, and this and germanium offered better prospects. Working with , and using a mix of theory and experiment, the point-contact transistor was developed by 1947; it used a thin germanium crystal and both rectified and amplified current. For many purposes, the days of the vacuum tube or thermionic valve were numbered and the silicon micro-chip, smaller, cheaper and requiring less power, moved towards the dominant place it has held in electronics ever since. Brattain was very much a practical physicist, with a special interest in surfaces. When he left Bell in 1967, he went on to study the lipid surfaces of biological membranes at Whitman College, where he had once been a student. He shared a Nobel Prize with Bardeen and Shockley in 1956.

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