John Bardeen Born 23 May 1908, Madison WI; died 30 January 1991, Boston MA. Co-inventor in 1947 of the transistor with William Shockley and Walter Brattain. One of only two scientists* ever to receive two Nobel prizes in the same field.

Education: BS, Physics: University of Wisconsin, 1928; MS, Physics: University of Wisconsin, 1929; PhD, Princeton University, Mathematics and Physics, 1936; Prof. Experience: Worked as a geophysicist with the Gulf Research and Development Corp. 1930-33; junior fellow, Harvard University 1935-38; Assistant professor of physics, University of Minnesota, 1938-41; physicist, US Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Washington DC, 1941-45; research physicist Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1945-51; Professor Electrical Engineering and Physics, 1951-78, Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics, University of Illinois, Urbana IL, 1975-91; Honors and Awards: Stuart Ballantine Medal, Franklin Institute, 1952; Buckley Prize, American Physical Society, 1954; John Scott Medal, City of Philadelphia, 1955; Nobel Prize for Physics (for the transistor) with W.H. Brattain and W. Shockley, 1956; Fritz London Award for low temperature physics, 1962; Vincent Bendix Award, American Society for Engineering Education, 1964; U.S. National Medal of Science, 1965; Michelson-Morley Award, 1968; Medal of Honor, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, 1971; Nobel Prize for Physics (for work on superconductivity) with L.N. Cooper and J.R. Schrieffer, 1972; James Madison Medal, Princeton University, 1973; Distinguished Lomonosov Prize, Soviet Academy of Science, 1987; One of 11 recipients, Third Century Award, honoring exceptional contributions to American creativity, 1990; One of the 100 most influential people of the century, Life Magazine, 1990; Member, National Academy of Science; Member, American Academy of Arts and Science; Fellow, American Physics Society; Fellow, IEEE.

John Bardeen, the last surviving member of the three-man team that developed the transistor and who twice won the Nobel Prize, died Wednesday [30 January 1991]. Catherine Foster, a spokeswoman for the University of Illinois, where Bardeen was Professor Emeritus, said he died at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "He had gone to see a doctor and had had exploratory surgery [Tuesday] and seemed to come through fine, I understand" she said. "But this morning he suffered cardiac arrest."[1]

Bardeen received his elementary and secondary education in Madison. He studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, receiving a B.S. in 1928 and an M.S. in 1929. The three years 1930-33 were spent doing research in geophysics at the Gulf Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1933, he returned to graduate studies in mathematical physics at Princeton University, where he had his first introduction to solid state theory from Professor E.P. Wigner, and received his Ph.D. in 1936. The three years, 1935-38, were spent as a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows of Harvard University, where he worked with Professors J.H. Van Vleck and P.W. Bridgeman. From 1938-41, he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota and from 1941-45, at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, DC. In the fall of 1945, he joined the newly formed research group in solid state physics at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey. It was there that he became interested in semiconductors and with W.H. Brattain discovered the transistor effect in late 1947. Walter Brattain died in 1987, and William P. Shockley died in 1989

Their work made the vacuum tube obsolete. Direct descendants of the transistor are the brain centers on devices ranging from the space shuttle to videocassette recorders and from calculators to computers. Bardeen left Bell Laboratories in 1951 to become Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana, where he was Professor and Emeritus Professor. Bardeen won the Nobel prize in 1956 as to co-inventor of the transistor, and again in 1972 as co-developer of the theory of superconductivity at low temperatures.

Bardeen once told a reporter that "I knew the transistor was important, but I never foresaw the revolution in electronics it would bring." Yet it was the development of the theory of low-temperature superconductivity of which he was most proud. While at the University of Illinois (1951-1970) he, Leon Cooper and John Schreiffer proposed and developed the Bardeen, Cooper, Schreiffer (BCS) theory of superconductivity. He observed that the temperature at which a metal becomes superconducting is inversely proportional to its atomic mass, suggesting that the "electron-phonon coupling" or the interaction of the electronic and vibrational modes in the metal lattice must be involved. Cooper had shown that electronic particles could associate in metals at low temperatures as "Cooper pairs" having zero spin. Analysis of the collective properties of these pairs and their coupling to the lattice led to an explanation in which the mean-free-path of the electron pairs becomes infinite, i.e. the metal becomes superconducting below a sharp transition temperature.[2] "Superconductivity was more difficult to solve and it required some radically new concepts" Bardeen said after the announcement of his second Nobel Prize. Superconductivity, in which electricity travels with little or no resistance, helped researchers develop such medical diagnostic tools as magnetic imaging and made possible high-speed computers possible.

Bardeen, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, served on the Council from 1954-57 and was President in 1968-69. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1954 and the National Academy of Engineering in 1972. He served on the U.S. President's Science Advisory Committee from 1959 to 1962 and on the White House Science Council in 1981-82. He was a founding member of the Commission on Very Low Temperatures of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics from 1963-1972, serving as chairman in 1969-1972. From 1961-1974 he was a member of the Board of Directors of Xerox Corporation and was a member of the Board of Supertex, Inc. from 1983 to 1991. [3]

Among Bardeen's other honors were the 1965 Medal of Science, the 1976 Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 1988 Lomonosov Prize from the Soviet Academy of Science. He also held membership in 14 professional societies and had received 16 honorary doctorates.

In 1990 Life Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century, and President Bush made him one of 11 recipients of the Third Century Award for creative contributions to America.

In 1983, Japan's Sony Corporation donated $3 million to endow a John Bardeen research and teaching chair in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois.


Significant Publications

Bardeen, John, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. 1964. Nobel Lectures - Physics, 1942-62, Elsevier, New York.


Semiconductor amplifier; Three-electrode circuit element utilizing semiconductive materials, US Patent Nos. 2,502,488; 2,524,035

[1] From Folkart, Burt A. January 31, 1991. "John Bardeen; Physicist Won 2 Nobels", Los Angeles Times.
[2] From: Michael F. Martens , 3/19/96
[3] From:, 1 April 1997.

* The other was Frederick Sanger in Chemistry.

Last updated 2001/12/21
© J.A.N. Lee, 2000-2001.