Scientific Methods

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Yes I did say “scientist(s)”, because I think the discovery that impacted and changed the world currently the most is the invention of the silicon chip. Two scientists that played a major role thereof are Jack St Clair Kilby and Robert Norton Noyce. Both this scientist invented independently and nearly simultaneously the Integrated Circuit (IC) (1).

Kilby was born in 1923 in Jefferson City, Missouri. He received a B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1947 from the University of Illinois (1, 6). In 1950 he received a M.Sc. degree from the University of Wisconsin (1, 6).

Noyce was born in 1927 in Burlington, Iowa. In 1949 he graduated from the Grinnell College (1, 4, 5). In 1953 he received a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Physics (1, 4, 5).

Kilby worked at the Centralab Division of Globe Union Inc. in Milwaukee from 1947 to 1958 (1). He’s main job description was during this time span the design of ceramic-base silk screen circuit boards. In 1958 he moved on and became part of the work force of Texas instruments in Dallas (1, 3, 6).

Noyce became a research engineer for Philco Corporation from 1953 to 1956 (1, 4). In 1956 he began to work at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California (1, 4, 5). In 1957 he and some others formed the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation (1, 3, 4, 5). Noyce and Gordon Moore were the co-founders of a company INTEL (4). Noyce was nicknamed “the Mayor of Silicon Valley” due to the important work he did (4, 5).

The problem both of them faced was known as the “Tyranny of Numbers” (1, 6). This was “the metaphor that described the exponentially increasing number of components required designing improved circuits, against the physical limitations derived from the number of components that could be assembled together” (1).

The answer to the above problem laid in a monolithic integrated circuit (1, 6). They fabricated whole networks of discrete components in a single sequence by laying them into one crystal of semiconductor material (1, 6). This single crystal of semiconductor material was known as a chip and made respectively of germanium (Kilby) and silicon (Noyce) (1, 6).

The two mother companies filed for patent right a few months apart from each other and naturally a legal battle started that lasted about a decade before an agreement were reached and cross-licensing of the two companies occurred (1).

In 1964, the Patent No. 3 138 743 for Miniaturized Electronic Circuits was given to Kilby and Texas Instruments (1, 6). Many more patents followed thereafter and in 1970 Kilby received the National medal of Science (1, 6). In 1982 Kilby was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1, 6).

The Patent No. 2 981 877 for silicon based IC was given to Noyce that created the Company INTEL responsible for the invention of microprocessors (1). Many more patents followed also for Noyce. In 1983 Noyce was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1).

Jack Kilby received the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2000 from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for “basic work on information and communication technology” (1, 6).

The invention known as the “silicon chip” is still today one of the most important achievements in scientific history.

In an online survey done by “Explorers special reports” the three top inventions listed were first the silicon chip (28 500 people), second the World Wide Web (23 600 people), third the Personal Computer (20 700 people) and last the Walkman (140 people) (2).

The silicon chip is considered as so important as it form the bases for the development of the Modern computer (2). Before the silicon chip most electrical devices were based on vacuum tube working (2). Vacuum tubes needed a high power supply and were also very large in most devices (2). Transistors made the problem halfway better but was still not the ideal answer because large wired circuit boards were involved (2, 3). The fact that the transistor has to be connected to wires and other electronic parts placed a limit on the size of the transistor and the smallest it could actually be was determined by the handler’s steady hands and tweezers (3).

Silicon is a semi conductor and the realization that all the parts thereof of could be made of silicon and not only the transistor, lead to the realization that this implies that the whole circuit (which large size was a problem) could be built out of one crystal, minimizing it and facilitating the production thereof (3). The first silicon circuit had the size of a pencil point (3). Unbelievable actually but true!






5. Wikipedia contributors. Robert Noyce [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia; 2006 May 17, 21:08 UCT [cited 2006 May 22]. Available from:
6. Wikipedia contributors. Jack Kilby [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia; 2006 May 3, 21:40 UCT [cited 2006 May 22]. Available from:

Elizabeth van der Merwe
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag x17

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