The connection between the transistor and the improvement of the human race

William Shockley (London, February 13, 1910 – Stanford, August 12, 1989)

It is not self-evident that someone who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for developing the transistor and also carries the title 'father of Silicon Valley' will also appear in an encyclopedia of sexuality. Nevertheless, Bill Shockley is quoted in a Dutch translation as early as 1970 under the keyword "eugenics": "The research into the factors that could improve the hereditary characteristics of the human race." Quote: 'Shockley therefore considers it imperative that all women are rendered infertile before the first menstrual period and that they should only be released from the contraceptive with the consent of a doctor. After every delivery, every woman must be rendered sterile again by means of a subcutaneous injection. '

The Stanford professor seriously embarrassed his guild of electrical engineers for the first time.

The second time was in February 1980 when it was announced that he was one of two Nobel laureates who contributed sperm to the newly established 'sperm bank for super sperm'. Not only journalists saw the specter loom again of the eugenics of Hitler's Third Reich.

William Bradford Shockley was born in London on February 13, 1910, the son of an American mining engineer. From the age of three he grew up in California, where he graduated from the renowned Caltech (California Institute of Technology).

In 1936 he received his doctorate from the equally prestigious MIT in Massachusetts.

That same year he was able to start work at the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Bell set up a program in those days to develop an electronic circuit for the telephone system.

In that context, Shockley already made notes on December 29, 1939 about experiments with semiconductors to replace the electron tube. If they succeeded, no vacuum, no filament and therefore no warm-up time would be necessary.

The material could not wear out and it could be kept very small. However, the application failed. In 1942, like so many American scientists, he was recruited into the war.

After the war, Shockley became Bell's co-team leader for the development of "a control valve for the flow of electrons in solids." Shockley first showed his talent for attracting other talent.

Bardeen and Brattain, two members of his team of widely differing experts, succeeded on December 16, 1947 in creating the first point-contact transistor to amplify human voices.

On New Year's Eve 1947, two weeks after the historic date, he wrote a 19-page memorandum in a Chicago hotel room that forms the basis for the production of the modern layer transistor. On June 26, 1948, more than 60 years ago, he applied for a patent.

The first transistors were used in 1952 to house the temples of a December 22, 1947 eyeglass frame, and then they became the basis of a new fad, the portable radio. For a moment it seemed as if the possibilities had been exhausted with the transistor radio. Today, the complete computer and space technology, to name just two examples, is unthinkable without transistor technology.

Shockley founded his own transistor factory in 1956. A beautiful photo from those years shows twelve men toasting with a glass of champagne to an early balding sporty gentleman of 46, who is sitting on the corner of the table.

It's 7am in California and a call from Stockholm has just announced that Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain have won the Nobel Prize. Shockley is the employer of the youngsters, who are clearly twenty years younger than their mentor.

Coincidentally, the Nobel laureate grew up in Palo Alto, now one of the great centers of Silicon Valley. His mother still lived there and the sun always shone.

Nearby was Stanford University, which in 1951 was the first to set up an industrial park next to the university, where young companies could connect directly to the research centers and where young academics could find work after their studies.

By 1956, twenty transistor manufacturing firms had already been established, one of which was Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.

Shockley had plucked his entire team of bright youngsters from universities and research centers on the East Coast. As the 'father of the transistor' and author of the only book on the subject, he had an enormous attraction for young, ambitious talent.

But, and everyone agreed, 'he was hard as hell to work with', the man was impossible to work with. In 1957, eight of his protégés hatched a plan to run off and set up their own firm.

Together they became known as 'the Shockley Eight', nicknamed 'the treacherous eight' by their former employer. They would all build brilliant careers. One of them founded the company Intel, where one of his employees invented the microprocessor in 1971.

Shockley's own company never recovered from the loss and went bust. While his young Turks grew immensely wealthy, he had to seek refuge in academic work at Stanford University.

Remarkably enough, the electronics engineer started to take an interest in genetics in the 1960s.

His disappointment must have been great when it was scientifically proven that sperm from men over 35, and certainly from elderly men, carries a greater risk of genetic damage. At the end of 1987 'his' sperm bank announced that it preferred the sperm of young men.

Shockley died on August 12, 1989.
(See also: computer chip)