Posted: By Jon Peddie 11.08.21
It was integrated circuits that made Moore’s observation possible. You can’t scale something unless you have the thing, and six-foot-six Jack Kilby gave us that thing—the integrated circuit. Fifty-six years ago, in a little lab on Forest Lane, Dallas Texas
Kilby asked the basic question: “Why do we need the wires? If I make parts out of all of the same material, I could carve them into a block of that material and no wires.”
That question and the resultant answer changed the world.
In 2000, Kilby was awarded a Nobel Prize for his disruptive and amazing invention, and the Nobel committee asked him to write his life story, which you can read here.
On August 28, 1958, Kilby assembled the prototype of an IC using discrete components and received approval for implementing it on one chip. The patent was filed in 1959.
|Jack Kilby’s original hybrid integrated circuit from 1958. This was the first integrated circuit and made from germanium. (Source: Texas Instruments)|
Two other geniuses were on the same trail of invention and discovery about the IC, Robert Noyce while at Fairchild, and Kurt Lehovec, a scientist working at the Sprague Electric Company. They were within months to a year of each other—a remarkable coincidence of a marvelous and earth-shaking idea that has made bazillionaires out of dozens of people and multi-millionaires out of thousands of lawyers.
It’s always difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of an invention, and the inventor’s uncertified notebook has often been the deciding factor, as it was with Kilby. Patent applications are another milestone, and Noyce/Fairchild did file a patent, and Kilby/TI didn’t, but Kilby had a very well-documented notebook.
The New York Times noted in 2005: “In 1959, Mr. Kilby and Dr. Noyce, then with Fairchild Semiconductor, were named as inventors in their companies’ applications for patents for the integrated circuit. After years of legal battles, Fairchild and Texas Instruments decided to cross-license their technologies, ultimately creating a world information industries market now worth more than $1 trillion annually.”
|Jack Kilby showing his famous notebook (Source: Texas Instruments)|
Although Noyce’s integrated circuit design that used the planar process of silicon and photolithographic printing was easier to manufacture than Mr. Kilby’s original invention, which employed germanium and used individual wires, Kilby is recognized as the first.
Kilby was described by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him as a mild-mannered and quiet man. He graduated from the University of Illinois and paid for his tuition with G.I. Bill of Rights grants having served in World War Two. He got his Masters's degree at Texas A&M.
Kilby was awarded both the National Medal of Science as well as the National Medal of Technology, the most outstanding awards given by the United States government. He passed away after a brief battle with cancer in 2005 at the age of 81.
Happy birthday Jack, and thank you.