Semiconductors: The improbable history of people you’ve never heard of but have changed our lives — Prof Peter Ivey — 20th June 2016

Stumperlowe Probus has an abund­ance of gifted people within its ranks and every six months a member is asked to give a talk.  Peter Ivey is such a member and his talk is to give a back­ground to the people who inven­ted tran­sist­ors and the micro­chips that shape our world today.  Whilst people can remem­ber the names of film stars and sports per­son­al­it­ies from dec­ades ago, nobody remem­bers Bill Schockley, John Bardeen or Walter Brattain although, by invent­ing the tran­sistor in 1948, they have trans­formed our world.  Their work res­ul­ted in the suc­cess­ful man­u­fac­ture of the first tran­sistor radios in 1955 by the Japanese com­pany Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo which, when they wanted to sell their products in the USA, changed their name to Sony.  They used 5 tran­sist­ors.

In 1956 Shockley moved from New Jersey to Mountain View California to be nearer his ill mother and to start Schockley Semiconductor Laboratory.  It was the start of Silicon Valley.

In 1957 eight of his research­ers, fed up with Schockley’s auto­cratic style, left to form Fairchild Semiconductor.  One of the eight, Bob Noyce, inven­ted the integ­rated cir­cuit, the “chip,” which was inde­pend­ently inven­ted by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments. The com­pan­ies fought over who had the right to the inven­tion but even­tu­ally agreed to share the pro­ceeds. It brought in vast sums over the fol­low­ing 20 years.

In 1968, Bob Noyce moved on from Fairchild to found the Intel Corporation which went on to develop the chips that have fuelled the per­sonal com­puter revolu­tion.

Peter then explained his work after his degrees in phys­ics and PhD at Bristol University, in 1974 he star­ted work for BT Labs.  In 1976 he designed his first “chip” incor­por­at­ing 8,000 tran­sist­ors which was used in tele­phone exchanges.  In 1989 as Professor, he set up the Electronics System Group at Sheffield University and con­tin­ued to design ever more com­plex micro­chips.  By 2000 the chips were using 500,000 tran­sist­ors.

Peter touched on the pro­duc­tion of sil­icon chips and the phe­nom­enal growth in num­bers and com­plex­ity of chips.  As this is such a large topic in itself, we have asked Peter to give us another talk on semi­con­ductor man­u­fac­tur­ing in the future.  The Club was spell­bound and hon­oured to have received such a high-quality talk from Peter.