HISTORY > INVENTION FACTS AND MYTHS
Fascinating facts about the invention of Integrated Circuits by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce in 1958. INTEGRATED CIRCUIT

The impact of this tiny chip has been far-reaching. Many of the electronics products of today could not have been developed without it. The chip virtually created the modern computer industry, transforming yesterday’s room-size machines into today’s array of mainframes, minicomputers and personal computers.
It was a relatively simple device that Jack Kilby showed to a handful of co-workers gathered in TI’s semiconductor lab more than 40 years ago—only a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium. Little did this group of onlookers know, but Kilby’s invention, 7/16-by-1/16-inches in size and called an integrated circuit, was about to revolutionize the electronics industry.
For almost 50 years after the turn of the 20th century, the electronics industry had been dominated by vacuum tube technology. But vacuum tubes had inherent limitations. They were fragile, bulky, unreliable, power hungry, and produced considerable heat.
It wasn’t until 1947, with the invention of the transistor by Bell Telephone Laboratories, that the vacuum tube problem was solved. Transistors were miniscule in comparison, more reliable, longer lasting, produced less heat, and consumed less power. The transistor stimulated engineers to design ever more complex electronic circuits and equipment containing hundreds or thousands of discrete components such as transistors, diodes, rectifiers and capacitors. But the problem was that these components still had to be interconnected to form electronic circuits, and hand-soldering thousands of components to thousands of bits of wire was expensive and time-consuming. It was also unreliable; every soldered joint was a potential source of trouble. The challenge was to find cost-effective, reliable ways of producing these components and interconnecting them.

TI was working on the Micro-Module program when Kilby joined the company in 1958. Because of his work with Centralab in Milwaukee, Kilby was familiar with the "tyranny of numbers" problem facing the industry. But he didn’t think the Micro-Module was the answer — it didn’t address the basic problem of large quantities of components in elaborate circuits.

So Kilby began searching for an alternative, and in the process decided the only thing a semiconductor house could make cost effectively was a semiconductor. "Further thought led me to the conclusion that semiconductors were all that were really required — that resistors and capacitors [passive devices], in particular, could be made from the same material as the active devices [transistors]. I also realized that, since all of the components could be made of a single material, they could also be made in situ interconnected to form a complete circuit," Kilby wrote in a 1976 article titled "Invention of the IC." Kilby began to write down and sketch out his ideas in July of 1958. By September, he was ready to demonstrate a working integrated circuit built on a piece of semiconductor material.

Meanwhile up in northern California, a recently formed company Fairchild Semiconductor under the leardership of Robert Noyce began making silicon transistors, which at the time had to be wired together by hand after they were produced. It was a cumbersome, laborious process, and it soon became clear to Fairchild’s founders that the commercial success of their venture rested on the development of a better production method.

Noyce, in his capacity as director of research and development, joined Fairchild co-founder Gordon Moore in investigating methods of connecting transistors that would eliminate after-production wiring. After a time, they developed a theory that seemed plausible, based on the idea of combining transistors in a solid block of silicon. Noyce began making notes in his lab notebook, unaware that a similar theory had already been arrived at the summer before in the laboratories of Texas Instruments, where a young scientist named Jack Kilby had spent months wrestling with the same problem.

Texas Instruments would publicly unveil Kilby’s discovery. Several executives, including former TI Chairman Mark Shepherd, gathered for the event on September 12, 1958. What they saw was a sliver of germanium, with protruding wires, glued to a glass slide. It was a rough device, but when Kilby pressed the switch, an unending sine curve undulated across the oscilloscope screen. His invention. now called the integrated circuit, worked — he had solved the problem.

This accelerated the efforts at Fairchild Semiconductor, which were now focused on making the connections between the tiny transistors and components an integral part of the manufacturing process itself. Jean Hoerni, one of Fairchild’s original founders, came up with a workable method when he developed the "planar" process. This process, which uses oxidation and heat diffusion to form a smooth insulating layer on the surface of a silicon chip, allowed the embedding of insulated layers of transistors and other elements in silicon. By using the insulation afforded by the planar process, each layer could now be isolated electrically, which eliminated the need to cut apart the layers and wire them back together as had been necessary in the past.

Fairchild Semiconductor filed a patent for a semiconductor integrated circuit based on the planar process on July 30, 1959, touching off a decade-long legal battle between Fairchild and Texas Instruments, which previously had filed a similar patent based on Kilby’s technology. Eventually, the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals upheld Noyce’s claims on interconnection techniques but gave Kilby and Texas Instruments credit for building the first working integrated circuit.

Without knowing each other, through two independent paths, both invented, almost at the same time, the Integrated Circuit (IC). The invention of Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, also known as "the chip", has been recognized as one of the most important innovations and significant achievements in the history of humankind.

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Robert Norton Noyce ( Left )

Dr. Jack Kilby ( Right )

 

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