William Bradford Shockley Born 13 February 1910, London, England; Died 12 August 1989, Stana Clara CA; With Walter Brattain and John Bardeen, inventor of the transistor in 1947 and recipients of the 1956 Nobel Laureate.

Educ: BS, Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1932; PhD, Physics, MIT, 1936; Prof. Exp: Bell Telephone Laboratories: Member, Technical Staff, 1936-42 and 1945-54, Director, Transistor Physics Research Facility, 1954; Director of Research, Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group, US Navy, 1942-44; Founder, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory (later renamed Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory), 1954-89; Stanford University: Lecturer, 1958-63, Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering Science and Applied Science, 1963-75, Professor Emeritus, 1975-89; Honors and Awards: Nobel Prize in Physics [1], 1956.

Co-inventor of the transistor in 1947 with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, Shockley participated in one of the most important discoveries of the century.

Shockley joined the technical staff of the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1936 and there began experiments that led to the invention and development of the junction transistor. During World War II, he served as director of research for the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group of the U.S. Navy. After the war, he returned to Bell Telephone as director of transistor physics research. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and Shockley applied for a patent in 1948 [2]; this device which was described as a germanium "transfer resistance" unit, from which the name "transistor" was derived. Shockley continued his research on the device to create the germanium junction transfer transistor, which was much more reliable than the first unit. From this start he founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories in Santa Clara Valley in 1954. He was visiting professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, in 1954, and deputy director of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group of the Department of Defense in 1954-55. He joined Beckman Instruments Inc., to establish the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1955. In 1958 he became lecturer at Stanford University, California, and in 1963 became the first Poniatoff professor of engineering science at Stanford University.

After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1956, disenchantment with Shockley's management style and his propensity for pure research led to the defection of the "Fairchild Eight" in 1957, and the deterioration of his company. His controversial views on genetics and his racist theories have shocked the society around him, but he has continued his research into "grave world problems".

Wolfe, in his 1983 article [3] on Robert Noyce provided two anecdotes about Shockley:

"In pensive moments Shockley looked very much the scholar, with his roundish face, his roundish eyeglasses. and his receding hairline-but Shockley was not a man locked in the pensive mode. He was an enthusiast, a raconteur, and a showman. At the outset his very personality was enough to keep everyone swept up in the great adventure. When he lectured, as he often did at colleges and before professional groups, he would walk up to the lectern and thank the master of ceremonies and say that the only more flattering introduction he had ever received was one he gave himself one night when the emcee didn't show up, whereupon-bango!-a bouquet of red roses would pop up in his hand. Or he would walk up to the lectern and say that tonight he was getting into a hot subject, whereupon he would open up a book and-whump!-a puff of smoke would rise up out of the pages.

"Shockley was famous for his homely but shrewd examples. One day a student confessed to being puzzled by the concept of amplification, which was one of the prime functions of the transistor. Shockley told him: 'If you take a bale of hay and tie it to the tail of a mule and then strike a match and set the bale of hay on fire, and if you then compare the energy expended shortly thereafter by the mule with the energy expended by yourself in the striking of the match, you will understand the concept of amplification.'"


The only heritage I can leave to Billy is the feeling of power and joy of responsibility for setting the world right on something - Shockley's Mother, about her eight year-old son.



Caddes, Carolyn. 1986. Portraits of Success: Impressions of Silicon Valley Pioneers, Tioga Publishing Co., Palo Alto CA.
Slater, Robert. 1987. Portraits in Silicon, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 13.

Significant Publications

Bardeen, John, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. 1964. Nobel Lectures - Physics, Elsevier, New York.
Shockley, William. 1950. Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors, With Applications to Transistor Electronics, Van Nostrand, New York.

[1] Jointly with John Bardeen and Walter H. Brattain.
[2] Semiconductor amplifier; Three-electrode circuit element utilizing semiconductive materials, US Patent Nos. 2,502,488; 2,524,035.
[3] Wolfe, Tom. December 1983. "The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce: How the Sun Rose on the Silicon Valley", Esquire Magazine, pp. 346-374.

Last updated 2000/02/14
© J.A.N. Lee, 2000.