Most people don’t know the microchip started in Texas. In 1958, Texas Instrument’s Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit, forever changing the world as we know it. The integrated circuit paved the way for the microchip, which is the basis of all our super-portable technology today. But how did he start? What made one little semiconductor company turn into the innovator it is today?
How did Kilby come up with his innovative idea? Like many inventors, he wanted to solve a problem. In this case, the problem was called "the tyranny of numbers." For almost 50 years after the turn of the 20th century, the electronics industry was controlled by vacuum tube technology. But vacuum tubes had intrinsic restrictions. They were delicate, large, unpredictable, power hungry, and created substantial heat. It wasn't until 1947, with the development of the transistor by Bell Telephone Laboratories, that the vacuum tube issue was solved. Transistors were a huge step. They were smaller, faster, lighter and stronger than vacuum tubes. But they still had one problem. They needed individual wires to be soldered together over multiple points, and each solder was a potential failing point in the future. But how do you overcome something like that? The Army had the idea of creating snap-together components of pre-soldered parts, but that still meant millions of soldering points that could fail at any time.
Kilby decided he’d figure a way around the problem. Deciding that the only thing a semiconductor house could make cost effectively was a semiconductor;
"Further thought led me to the conclusion that semiconductors were all that were really required — that resistors and capacitors [passive devices], in particular, could be made from the same material as the active devices [transistors]. I also realized that, since all of the components could be made of a single material, they could also be made in situ interconnected to form a complete circuit," Kilby wrote in a 1976 article titled "Invention of the IC."
He started writing down his idea in July of 1958. By September 12, 1958, he was ready to demonstrate a working integrated circuit built on a piece of semiconductor material. What he used was a sliver of germanium, with protruding wires, glued to a glass slide. It was a rough device, but when Kilby turned it on, an unending sine curve undulated across the oscilloscope screen. His invention worked.
Using this innovation, Texas Instruments became the powerhouse it is today. Texas Instrument's analog chips are used in electronics ranging from portable ultrasound equipment to set-top boxes, from eBooks to computer servers, and from robotics to LED streetlights. No matter what industry you imagine, Texas Instruments has had a hand in making it what it is today.
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Coleen Torres, blogger at phone internet, save money on home phone, digital TV, and high-speed Internet by comparing prices from providers in your area for standalone service or phone TV Internet bundles.