William B. Shockley Biography

Physicist, Scientist(1910–1989)
William B. Shockley was an engineer and co-winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of the transistor, considered one of the greatest breakthroughs in technological history.

Synopsis

Born in London, England, on February 13, 1910, William B. Shockley joined Bell Telephone in 1936 and experimented with semiconductors, leading to the invention and development of the transistor. He and his colleagues invented the point-contact transistor in 1947 and a more effective device, the junction transistor, in 1948; the device largely replaced the bulkier and less-efficient vacuum tube, and ushered in the age of microminiature electronics. Shockley died on August 12, 1989, in Palo Alto, California.

Early Life and Career

Born in London, England, on February 13, 1910, William Bradford Shockley studied physics at the California Institute of Technology, graduating in 1932. After earning his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1936, Shockley began working at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he experimented with semiconductors. He served during World War II as director of research for the U.S. Navy's Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group and, after the war, returned to Bell as director of physics research.

Co-Winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics

William B. Shockley worked with John Bardeen and Walter H. Brattain, using semiconductors to control and amplify electronic signals. The team developed the point-contact transistor in 1947, and, a year later, improved on it with the junction transistor, a device that largely replaced the bulkier and less-efficient vacuum tube, and ushered in the age of microminiature electronics.

Shockley established the Schockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1955, also becoming a professor at Stanford University. The following year, he shared the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics with Bardeem and Brattain for the invention of the transistor, now considered one of the greatest breakthroughs in technological history.

Later Years

During the 1960s, Shockley began promoting his theory of "dysgenics," which claimed that people of African descent were intellectually inferior to Caucasians. Despite his substantial contribution to science, Shockley's reputation remains clouded by his inflammatory articles and speeches. And while he played a significant role in creating the $130 million semiconductor industry, Shockley considered genetics his most important work.

William B. Shockley died on August 12, 1989, at the age of 79, in Palo Alto, California.

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