In the summer of 1958, an electrical engineer at Texas Instruments worked in a deserted office while most employees left on a two-week vacation period. As a new employee with no vacation, Jack St. Clair Kilby instead spent the summer inventing a technology that revolutionized modern computing: the monolithic integrated circuit– the microchip that lies in the heart of every computer.
By incorporating all the necessary components for a complete electrical circuit onto a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip, Kilby laid the foundation for the entire industry of microelectronics.
When his colleagues returned from vacation, the device was nothing more than a sliver of germanium with protruding wires, glued to a glass slide. But when Kilby pressed a switch, an unending sine curve moved across the oscilloscope screen. His invention worked. The microchip served as the backbone for Kilby’s subsequent inventions of the semi-conductor based thermal printer, gate array, and a circuit-based hand-held calculator, the Pocketronic.
By Jennifer Santisi