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William Shockley

William Shockley

William Bradford Shockley (1910-1989)
Born13 February 1910(1910-02-13)
London, England
Died12 August 1989 (aged 79)
Stanford, California
InstitutionsBell Labs
Shockley Semiconductor
Alma materCaltech
Academic advisor  John C. Slater
Known forCoinventor of the transistor
Notable prizes Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)
Religious stanceNone, atheist

William Bradford Shockley (February 13, 1910 – August 12, 1989) was a British-born American physicist and inventor.

Along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, Shockley co-invented the transistor, for which all three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics. Shockley's attempts to commercialize a new transistor design in the 1950s and 1960s led to California's "Silicon Valley" becoming a hotbed of electronics innovation. In his later life, Shockley was a professor at Stanford, and he also became a staunch advocate of eugenics. [1]



Early years

Shockley was born in London to American parents, and raised in California. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1932. While still a student, Shockley married Iowan Jean Bailey in August of 1933. In March 1934 he and Jean had a baby girl, Alison. Shockley was awarded his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936. Notably, the title of his doctoral thesis was Electronic Bands in Sodium Chloride, and was suggested by his thesis advisor, John C. Slater. After receiving his doctorate, he joined a research group headed by Clinton Davisson at Bell Labs in New Jersey. In 1938 got his first patent, "Electron Discharge Device" on electron multipliers.

When World War II broke out, Shockley became involved in radar research at the labs in Whippany, New Jersey. In May 1942 he took leave from Bell Labs to become a research director at Columbia University's Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Group[2]. This involved devising methods for countering the tactics of submarines with improved convoying techniques, optimizing depth charge patterns, and so on. This project required frequent trips to the Pentagon and Washington, where Shockley met many high ranking officers and government officials. In 1944 he organized a training program for B-29 bomber pilots to use new radar bomb sights. In late 1944 he took a three month tour to bases around the world to assess the results. For this project, Secretary of War Robert Patterson awarded Shockley the Medal of Merit on October 17, 1946.

Solid-state transistor

Shortly after the end of the war in 1945, Bell Labs formed a Solid State Physics Group, led by Shockley and chemist Stanley Morgan; other personnel including Bardeen and Brattain, physicist Gerald Pearson, chemist Robert Gibney, electronics expert Hilbert Moore and several technicians. Their assignment was to seek a solid-state alternative to fragile glass vacuum tube amplifiers. Their first attempts were based on Shockley's ideas about using an external electrical field on a semiconductor to affect its conductivity. These experiments mysteriously failed every time in all sorts of configurations and materials. The group was at a standstill until Bardeen suggested a theory that invoked surface states that prevented the field from penetrating the semiconductor. The group changed its focus to study these surface states and they met almost daily to discuss the work. The rapport of the group was excellent, and ideas were freely exchanged.[3] By the winter of 1946 they had enough results that Bardeen submitted a paper on the surface states to Physical Review. Brattain started experiments to study the surface states through observations made while shining a bright light on the semiconductor's surface. This led to several more papers (one of them co-authored with Shockley), which estimated the density of the surface states to be more than enough to account for their failed experiments. The pace of the work picked up significantly when they started to surround point contacts between the semiconductor and the conducting wires with electrolytes. Moore built a circuit that allowed them to vary the frequency of the input signal easily and suggested that they use glycol borate (gu), a viscous chemical that didn't evaporate. Finally they began to get some evidence of power amplification when Pearson, acting on a suggestion by Shockley, [4] put a voltage on a droplet of gu placed across a P-N junction.

December of 1947 was Bell Labs' "Miracle Month," when Bardeen and Brattain -- working without Shockley -- succeeded in creating a point-contact transistor that achieved amplification. By the next month, Bell Lab's patent attorneys started to work on the patent applications.

Bell Labs attorneys soon discovered that Shockley's field effect principle had been anticipated and patented in 1930 by Julius Lilienfeld, who filed his MESFET-like patent in Canada already on October 22, 1925.[5][6] Although the patent appeared "breakable" (it could not work) the patent attorneys based one of its four patent applications only on the Bardeen-Brattain point contact design. Three others submitted at the same time covered the electrolyte-based transistors with Bardeen, Gibney and Brattain as the inventors. Shockley's name was not on any of these patent applications. This angered Shockley, who thought his name should also be on the patents because the work was based on his field effect idea. He even made efforts to have the patent written only in his name, and told Bardeen and Brattain of his intentions.

At the same time he secretly continued his own work to build a different sort of transistor based on junctions instead of point contacts; he expected this kind of design would be more likely to be viable commercially. Shockley worked furiously on his magnum opus, Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors which was finally published as a 558 page treatise in 1950. In it, Shockley worked out the critical ideas of drift and diffusion and the differential equations that govern the flow of electrons in solid state crystals. Shockley's diode equation is also described. This seminal work became the "bible" for an entire generation of scientists working to develop and improve new variants of the transistor and other devices based on semiconductors.  

Shockley was dissatisfied with certain parts of the explanation for how the point contact transistor worked and conceived of the possibility of minority carrier injection. This led Shockley to ideas for what he called a "sandwich transistor." This resulted in the junction transistor, which was announced at a press conference on July 4, 1951. Shockley obtained a patent for this invention on September 25, 1951. Different fabrication methods for this device were developed but the "diffused-base" method became the method of choice for many applications. It soon eclipsed the point contact transistor, and it and its offspring became overwhelmingly dominant in the marketplace for many years. Shockley continued as a group head to lead much of the effort at Bell Labs to improve it and its fabrication for two more years.

In 1951, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He was forty-one years old; this was rather young for such an election. Two years later, he was chosen as the recipient of the prestigious Comstock Prize for Physics by the NAS, and was the recipient of many other awards and honors.

The ensuing publicity generated by the "invention of the transistor" often thrust Shockley to the fore, much to the chagrin of Bardeen and Brattain. Bell Labs management, however, consistently presented all three inventors as a team. Shockley eventually infuriated and alienated Bardeen and Brattain, and he essentially blocked the two from working on the junction transistor. Bardeen began pursuing a theory for superconductivity and left Bell Labs in 1951. Brattain refused to work with Shockley further and was assigned to another group. Neither Bardeen nor Brattain had much to do with the development of the transistor beyond the first year after its invention.[7]

Shockley's abrasive management style caused him to be passed over for executive promotion at Bell Labs, which also felt he was a greater asset as a research scientist and theorist. Shockley wanted the power and profit he felt he deserved. He took a leave from Bell Labs in 1953 and moved back to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for four months as a visiting professor.

Shockley Semiconductor

Eventually he was given a chance to run his own company, as a division of a Caltech friend's successful electronics firm. In 1955, Shockley joined Beckman Instruments, where he was appointed as the Director of Beckman's newly founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory division in Mountain View, California. With his prestige and Beckman's capital, Shockley attempted to lure some of his former colleagues from Bell Labs to his new lab, but none of them would join him. Instead, Shockley started scouring universities for the brightest graduates to build a company from scratch, one that would be run "his way".

"His way" could generally be summed up as "domineering and increasingly paranoid". In one famous incident, he claimed that a secretary's cut thumb was the result of a malicious act and he demanded lie detector tests to find the culprit.[8] It was later demonstrated the cut was due to a broken thumbtack on the office door, and from that point the research staff was increasingly hostile. Meanwhile, his demands to create a new and technically difficult device (originally called a Shockley diode and now known as the Thyristor), meant that the project was moving very slowly.

Shockley separated from his wife Jean in the Spring of 1954, finally divorcing her in the Summer of 1954. Shortly after forming the company, on November 23, 1955, Shockley married Emmy Lanning, a teacher of psychiatric nursing from upstate New York. They had a very happy marriage that lasted until his death in 1989.

Shockley was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956, along with Bardeen and Brattain. In his Nobel lecture, he gave full credit to Brattain and Bardeen as the inventors of the point-contact transistor. The three of them, together with wives and guests, had a rather raucous late-night champagne-fueled party to celebrate together.

In late 1957, eight of Shockley's researchers, who called themselves "the Traitorous Eight," resigned after Shockley decided not to continue research into silicon-based semiconductors. [1] Several of the eight met with Sherman Fairchild and described the situation, and the eight started Fairchild Semiconductor after being given seed capital from Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation to form a semiconductor division. Among the "Traitorous Eight" were Robert Noyce and Gordon E. Moore, who themselves would leave Fairchild to create Intel. Other offspring companies of Fairchild Semiconductor include National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices.

While Shockley was still trying to get his three-state device to work, Fairchild and Texas Instruments both introduced the first integrated circuits, making Shockley's work in that area essentially superfluous.


Shockley was a popular speaker/lecturer, an amateur magician and, famously, once magically produced a bouquet of roses at the end of an address before the American Physical Society. He was famed in his early years for his elaborate practical jokes.[9] He became an accomplished rock climber, going often to the Shawangunks in the Hudson River Valley, where he pioneered a route across an overhang, known to this day as "Shockley's Ceiling."[10]

He was an atheist, and never attended church.[11]

Later years

In July of 1961 Shockley, his wife Emmy, and son Dick were involved in a serious automobile accident: Shockley took several months to recover from his injuries. His firm was sold to Clevite, but never made a profit. When Shockley was eased out of the directorship, he joined Stanford University, where he was appointed the Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.

Shockley's last patent was granted in 1968, for a rather complex semiconductor device.

Beliefs about populations and genetics

Late in his life, Shockley became intensely interested in questions of race, intelligence and eugenics. He thought this work was important to the genetic future of the human species, and came to describe it as the most important work of his career, even though expressing such politically unpopular views risked damaging his reputation. When asked why he seemed to take positions associated with both the political right and left, Shockley explained that his goal was "the application of scientific ingenuity to the solution of human problems."[12]

Shockley believed that the higher rate of reproduction among the less intelligent was having what he called a "dysgenic" effect, causing a lowering of worldwide human quality. Although Shockley was concerned about both Black and White dysgenic effects, he found the situation among Blacks more disastrous. While unskilled Whites had 3.7 children on average versus an average of 2.3 children for skilled Whites, Shockley found from the 1970 Census Bureau reports that unskilled Blacks had 5.4 children versus 1.9 for the skilled Blacks.[13] Shockley reasoned that because intelligence (like most traits) is inherited, the Black population would, over time become much less intelligent countering all the gains that had been made by the Civil Rights movement. Shockley's published writings and lectures to scientific organizations on this topic, such as the National Academy of Sciences, were partly based on the research of Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, Cyril Burt and H. J. Eysenck. Shockley also proposed that individuals with IQs below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization.

He donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank founded by Robert Klark Graham in hopes of spreading humanity's best genes. The bank, called by the media the "Nobel Prize sperm bank," claimed to have three Nobel Prize-winning donors, though Shockley was the only one to publicly acknowledge his donation to the sperm bank. However, Shockley's views about the genetic superiority of whites over blacks brought the Repository for Germinal Choice notable negative publicity and discouraged other Nobel Prize winners from donating sperm.[14]

In 1981 he filed a libel suit against the Atlanta Constitution after a reporter called him a "Hitlerite" and compared his racial views to the Nazis. Shockley won the suit, but received only $1 in damages. He was represented by Murray M. Silver, Esq., of Atlanta, Ga.[15]

In his later years Shockley took several precautions to improve his interactions with the media, to little avail. He taped his telephone conversations with reporters, and then sent the transcript to the reporter by registered mail. At one point he toyed with the idea of making them take a simple quiz on his work before discussing the subject with them.[16]


He died in 1989 of prostate cancer. [1]

Shockley had a stormy relationship with his three children. By the time of his death he was almost completely estranged from them, and his children are reported to have learned of his death only through the print media.

In 2002, a group of about 30 colleagues have met on and off at Stanford since 1956 to reminisce about their time with Shockley and his central role in sparking the information technology revolution, its organizer saying "Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley."[17]


  • Shockley was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
  • He received honorary science doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Gustavus Adolphus Colleges in Minnesota.
  • Oliver E. Buckley Solid State Physics Prize of the American Physical Society.
  • Maurice Liebman Memorial Prize from the Institute of Radio Engineers.
  • Holley Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1963.


Shockley was granted over ninety US patents. Some notable ones are:

  • US patent 2502488 {{{3}}} "Semiconductor Amplifier". Applied for on Sept. 24, 1948; His first involving transistors .
  • US patent 2655609 {{{3}}} "Bistable Circuits". Applied for on July 22 1952; Used in computers.
  • US patent 2787564 {{{3}}} "Forming Semiconductive Devices by Ionic Bombardment". Applied for on Oct. 28, 1954; The diffusion process for implantation of impurities.
  • US patent 3031275 {{{3}}} "Process for Growing Single Crystals". Applied for on Feb. 20, 1959; Improvements on process for production of basic materials.
  • US patent 3053635 {{{3}}} "Method of Growing Silicon Carbide Crystals". Applied for on Sept. 26, 1960; Exploring other semiconductors.

Books by Shockley

  • Shockley, William Electrons and holes in semiconductors, with applications to transistor electronics, Krieger (1956) ISBN 0-88275-382-7.
  • Shockley, William Mechanics Merrill (1966).
  • Shockley, William and Pearson, Roger Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems Scott-Townsend (1992) ISBN 1-878465-03-1.

Books about Shockley

  • Joel N. Shurkin; Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2006. ISBN 1-4039-8815-3
  • Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson; Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age. New York: Norton. 1997. ISBN 0-393-31851-6 pbk.

See also

  • Julius Edgar Lilienfeld


  1. ^ a b "William B. Shockley, 79, Creator of Transistor and Theory on Race", New York Times, August 14, 1989. Retrieved on 2007-07-21. "William Bradford Shockley, who shared a Nobel Prize in physics for his role in the creation of the transistor and earned the enmity of many for his views on the genetic differences between the races, died of cancer of the prostate at his home in California on Saturday. He was 79 years old and lived on the campus of Stanford University." 
  2. ^ Broken Genius p. 65-67
  3. ^ Brattain quoted in Crystal Fire p. 127
  4. ^ Crystal Fire p. 132
  5. ^ US patent 1745175 "Method and apparatus for controlling electric current" first filing in Canada on 22.10.1925
  6. ^
  7. ^ Crystal Fire p. 278
  8. ^ Crystal Fire p. 247
  9. ^ Crystal Fire p. 45
  10. ^ Crystal Fire p. 132
  11. ^ Crystal Fire p. 133
  12. ^ "Shockley on Eugenics and Race" p. 48
  13. ^ Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 278
  14. ^
  15. ^ Kessler, Ronald. "Absent at the Creation; How one scientist made off with the biggest invention since the light bulb". 
  16. ^ "Shockley on Genetics and Race" p. 33
  17. ^
Preceded by
Richard Bellman
IEEE Medal of Honor
Succeeded by
Sidney Darlington
Preceded by
Dwight Eisenhower
Time's Men of the Year(Alongside Linus Pauling, Isidor Rabi, Edward Teller, Joshua Lederberg, Donald A. Glaser, Willard Libby, Robert Woodward, Charles Draper, Emilio Segrè, John Enders, Charles Townes, George Beadle, James Van Allen and Edward Purcell representing U.S. Scientists)
Succeeded by
John F. Kennedy

NAME Shockley, William
SHORT DESCRIPTION Physicist, inventor
DATE OF BIRTH 13 February 1910
PLACE OF BIRTH London, England
DATE OF DEATH 12 August 1989
PLACE OF DEATH Stanford, California
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William_Shockley". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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