“Father of Chips” Jack Kilby
In 2000, Jack Kilby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the integrated circuit. The Nobel Prize review committee commented that he “laid the foundation for modern information technology”, and the “Los Angeles Times” selected him as the first of “50 people who had the most influence on the American economy in the 20th century”.
He is known as the “Father of Chips”. People praised him for “igniting an information age”, making “the most valuable invention in the second half of the 20th century”, revolutionizing the electronics industry, laying the technological foundation for the third industrial revolution, and changing the way of life of mankind.
When the King of Sweden awarded Jack Kilby the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the first chip 42 years ago, the then 77-year-old didn’t buy it one bit, claiming he was just An ordinary engineer is at best an inventor. He confessed that he neither understands physics nor is he a scientist.
Jack Kilby is really not a physicist. After all, he was not born in an academic hall, and he has never discovered any scientific laws, let alone thought about any scientific issues, and he has not even published a decent scientific paper. However, it only has more than 60 patents. He was, however, a fairly accomplished engineer.
He said: “I knew this invention was very important, but I never realized that it would be so important, let alone that it would be so widely used.” Looking back now, it is not difficult to find that he invented the chip. The method and methods are not complicated, but he used creative thinking, grasped the core of the problem, and applied mathematical skills to solve practical engineering problems.
In fact, just a few months after he invented the first chip, billionaire scientist Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor invented a more advanced, more powerful, and more practical silicon chip, which was put into commercial use earlier. field. This is why Noyce has always been unconvinced and wanted to use legal means, even spending 10 years in litigation to fight for the honor of “father of chips”. It is a pity that Noyce passed away in 1990, thus passing away with the Nobel Prize.
Jack Kilby sighed in his acceptance speech: “If Noyce was still alive, he would definitely share this award with me.” It is generally accepted that Kilby and Noyce are the co-inventors of the chip .
On November 8, 1923, Jack Kilby was born as the eldest son in an ordinary family in Jefferson City, Kansas, USA. His father was an accomplished electrical engineer and also owned a small electric company. Kilby watched his father tinker with all kinds of power generation and transmission equipment in the power plant with admiration since he was a child. He found it very fun and determined to become an electrical engineer like his father.
Kilby was average in school. In 1941, Kilby graduated from high school. He originally wanted to enter the best engineering school in the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hoping to become an outstanding engineer in the future. However, in the end, he was rejected with a difference of 3 points, and he could barely enter his parents’ alma mater, the University of Illinois, to study as an undergraduate. Shortly after enrolling, the Pearl Harbor incident broke out, and Kilby was called into the army and spent several years in the India-Burma battlefield, becoming a radio communication equipment repairman.
After the war, Kilby returned to the University of Illinois to continue his studies in electrical engineering. Many of the professors at that time were soldiers who actually used radar and radio equipment in the war. They had strong hands-on skills and attached great importance to solving practical problems. The engineering thinking of the professors had a great influence on Kilby, so he was very clear about the microcircuit technology at that time.
At the age of 24, Kilby graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. It was in this year that Bell Laboratories in the United States invented the transistor. This meant that most of what Kilby had learned throughout college (tube technology, etc.) was outdated.
However, even with the most advanced transistors at that time, the assembled devices were still very bulky and not suitable for large-scale applications at all, and there were still many miniaturization or even miniaturization manufacturing process problems to be solved. In addition, the cost of transistors was very high at that time, and it was difficult to popularize them. To this end, Kilby worked at the central laboratory in Wisconsin with a strong interest in transistor technology. During this period, he mastered the most advanced printed circuit technology at that time. More importantly, he completed the preparatory work required to invent the chip here.
Secondly, he used his spare time to participate in the evening class of the master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, read a large number of papers introducing miniaturized circuits, learned the knowledge of transistors comprehensively, and firmly believed that transistors are the best devices in electronic circuits. He also received his master’s degree in 1950.
Dahmer of the British Radar Research Institute proposed the theoretical concept of integrated circuits in 1952, that is, all the transistors, diodes and other components required by electronic circuits are fabricated on the same semiconductor. But how to turn it into reality technically? At that time, there was fierce competition among all walks of life in industry, academia and research, and everyone wanted to be the first inventor of the chip. With the development of the times, the concept of microelectronics technology is rapidly changing from scientific theory to engineering thinking.
The integrated circuit was on the horizon, and the dream of developing microcircuits became stronger and stronger in Kilby’s heart. At this time, he found that the Bell Labs he was in could no longer help him realize his dream. The boss does not want to invest in silicon issues, because the cost of silicon technology is indeed too high. Kilby firmly believes that only silicon is the electronic material of the future, and only silicon transistors are the future. In May 1958, Kilby moved to Texas Instruments (TI). The company is willing to support his research on the topic of “miniaturization of electronic devices” and promises to provide him with enough time and good conditions. Just two months after joining the company, a genius idea gradually became clear in his mind: use the same material to manufacture passive components (resistors, capacitors) and active devices (transistors) at the same time; It is built on the same piece of material, and then connected to each other to form a complete circuit.
What is used as “the same piece of material”? Kilby, of course, chose the semiconductor silicon. Silicon is widely found in rocks, gravel and dust and is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
Kilby worked out the details of the chip’s invention in almost a day. On July 24, 1958, he organized his invention ideas into an experiment log with only 5 pages, and drew related design drawings and technological processes. Kilby’s idea was to use a single piece of silicon to make the entire circuit, so that the circuit could be reduced to the extreme.
At that time, everyone recognized the importance of this invention. On August 28, 1958, Kilby completed key components. On September 12, many executives of TI surrounded Kilby with excitement and nervousness, witnessing the success of the experiment. The first chip in human history was finally born! TI immediately announced this exciting news to the world, and Kilby immediately started the patent squatting work. Fortunately, he preempted the registration quickly, otherwise he would be passive in the subsequent lawsuit with Noyce. September 12, 1958 is regarded as the birth date of the chip. It opened the prelude to the information revolution, ushered in a new era of history, and announced the advent of the silicon era.
After inventing the chip, Kilby has done many other meaningful inventions and creations. In 1966, he developed the first pocket calculator. Later, he invented a silicon solar device, but it was not recognized by the market.
Interestingly, although Kilby developed many electronic devices, he never used them. When calculating, he insisted on using only slide rules; when timing, he refused to use electronic watches, and only used traditional watches. In addition, he always believes that he is only an engineer who solves problems, and solving problems is more important to him than making money. He even admitted that he “has a lack of imagination for problems that can be solved with money.” As long as he can do what he likes, he is content. In terms of life, he has nothing to pursue. A car has been used for decades, even if it is dilapidated, he is reluctant to discard it, and still puts it in the garage for spare.