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.