Jack St. Clair Kilby, a 1950 MS graduate in electrical engineering, has been named a co-winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in physics.
Kilby received the prize for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit, or the chip, an insight that led to what is now the foundation of the modern electronics industry.
Also sharing in the 2000 Nobel in physics are Zhores I. Alferov, with the A.F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia and Herbert Kroemer of the University of California at Santa Barbara, California, USA. They invented and developed fast opto- and microelectronic components based on layered semiconductor structures, termed semiconductor heterostructures. The three will receive the prize in Sweden on Dec. 10.
Kilby, 76, joined Texas Instruments in 1958. His idea for his Nobel-winning invention was captured in his notebook in these words: “The following circuit elements could be made on a single slice (of silicon): resistors, capacitor, distributed capacitor, transistor.” According to Texas Instruments, he was working with borrowed and improvised equipment when he conceived and built the first electronic circuit in which all of the components, both active and passive, were fabricated in a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip. The successful laboratory demonstration of that first simple microchip on September 12, 1958, made history.
He held a number of positions in semiconductor R&D management at Texas Instruments, including assistant vice president and director of engineering until his retirement in 1970. Since then he has been an independent consultant and inventor working with integrated circuit technology. From 1978 to 1984, he also held the position of Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
“Kilby’s invention of the integrated circuit was one of two watershed events in the miniaturization of technology,” says UW-Madison College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy. “The first was the transistor, which was co-invented by another of our alumni, John Bardeen. That replaced vacuum tubes. Then Kilby realized that you could replace discrete components such as resistors and capacitors by placing the technology on silicon with the transistors. That really set the stage for today’s computing revolution. The integrated circuit is the engine that drives the information age.
“From a business standpoint, chip manufacture is roughly a $200 billion a year enterprise, and growing. Add to that the economic significance of high-tech industry. You may now begin to see the significance of Kilby’s invention,” Peercy adds.
In awarding the physics prize, the Nobel Foundation stated, “In today’s society, increasing amounts of information flow from our computers out through the optical fibers of the Internet and through our mobile telephones to satellite radio links all over the world. Two simple but fundamental requirements are put on a modern information system for it to be practically useful. It must be fast, so that large volumes of information can be transferred in a short time. The user’s apparatus must be small so that there is room for it in offices, homes, briefcases or pockets. Through their inventions, this year’s Nobel Laureates in physics have laid a stable foundation for modern information technology.”
In an interview for Texas Instruments, Kilby reflected on his thoughts at the time the circuit was invented. “I think I thought it would be important for electronics as we knew it then, but that was a much simpler business and electronics was mostly radio and television and the first computers. What we did not appreciate was how much the lower costs would expand the field of electronics into completely different applications that I don’t know that anyone had thought of at that time,” he said.
Kilby holds more than 60 patents, including the first on monolithic integrated circuits, reduced titanate capacitors, semiconductor thermal printers and hand-held calculators.
He received his BS in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 1947. After graduation, he worked for the Centralab Division of Globe-Union Inc. in Milwaukee, where he worked on ceramic-based printed circuits.
Kilby is the recipient of numerous national and international awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a recipient of both the National Medal of Science and a Draper Prize, an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and an IEEE fellow. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from UW-Madison in 1990, and a Distinguished Service Citation from the College of Engineering in 1986.
In one of his more unusual honors, Kilby’s achievement appeared on a stamp in the U.S. Postal Service’s “Celebrate the Century” collection. Through a nationwide ballot in May 1998, the public selected Kilby’s innovation and 14 other significant people, places, events and trends to become stamps that commemorate the 1960s. Other subjects selected included the first moon landing and the Beatles.
Kilby was born in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1923, and resides in Dallas, Texas. He is the second UW-Madison engineering alumnus to receive a Nobel Prize. Electrical engineering alumnus John Bardeen (BSEE ’28, MSEE ’29) was co-winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for research on semiconductors and discovery of the “transistor effect.” He was also a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972 for the jointly developed theory of superconductivity.