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Sunday, September 14, 2014

#304 Revolution? Evolution?

I recently needed to go back to the fundamentals of solid state physics upon which modern semiconductor science and engineering are built. As a result, once again I did realize how long was the process which brought us to where we are with the knowledge base in this key to our lives technical domain.


We like to call the process that followed invention of transistor by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley over 60 years ago an electronics revolution implying that it all started with successful demonstration of transistor action. That’s fine, but question I have is how did Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley know to apply two gold contacts in specific configuration to the crystal of germanium in their search of the elusive “transistor action”? Obviously they were not moving in the dark, but were making their choices drawing from the prior knowledge, knowledge that did take half a century to evolve and mature to the point where a working transistor could be demonstrated.


To give credit to where credit is due we need to go back to the very beginnings of 20th century when Planck came up with his quantum hypothesis, validity of which was then unequivocally confirmed by Einstein. Then came de Broglie with his wave-particle duality principle, Schrodinger who brought it all together with a wave mechanics formulation and Pauli who announced his exclusion principle. Quarter century after Planck’s seminal contribution, Fermi-Dirac’s statistics, with the name of the first one used to identify key to this statistics concept of a Fermi level, got the solid state physics to the point when scientifically sound considerations regarding solid-sate replacement of the vacuum triode, a replacement later called a “transistor”, were possible. It is not the coincidence that about that time Lilienfeld patented a three-electrode structure using copper-sulfide semiconductor material, and known today as a field-effect transistor.


In spite of all this it took scientists and engineers another quarter century to actually bring working transistor, in the different form than the one envisioned by Lilienfeld, to life. Now, you pass your own judgment, was it a “revolution” or “evolution”? Not that it really matters, but it is fun to look back and to reflect on  what does it actually take to produce technical breakthroughs.

Posted by Jerzy Ruzyllo at 11:59 AM | Semiconductors | Link is the personal blog of Jerzy Ruzyllo. With over 35 years of experience in academic research and teaching in the area of semiconductor engineering (currently holding position of a Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State University), he has a unique perspective on the developments in this progress driving technical domain and enjoys blogging about it.

With over 2000 terms defined and explained, Semiconductor Glossary is the most complete reference in the field of semiconductors on the market today.

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