William Shockley

From PhysicsWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
William Bradford Shockley Jr.
William Shockley, Stanford University.jpg
Born (1910-02-13)February 13, 1910
London, England,
United Kingdom
Died August 12, 1989(1989-08-12) (aged 79)
Stanford, California,
United States
Nationality American
Alma mater Caltech</br>MIT
Known for Transistor
Awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)
Comstock Prize in Physics (1953)
IEEE Medal of Honor(1980)
Scientific career
Institutions Bell Labs</br>Shockley Semiconductor</br>Stanford University
Doctoral advisor John C. Slater

William Bradford Shockley Jr. (February 13, 1910 – August 12, 1989) was an American physicist and inventor. Along with John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, Shockley co-invented the transistor, for which all three were awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Shockley's attempts to commercialize a new transistor design in the 1950s and 1960s led to California's "Silicon Valley" becoming a hotbed of electronics innovation. In his later life, Shockley was a professor at Stanford and became a staunch advocate of eugenics.[1]


Early years

Shockley was born in London, England to American parents, and raised in his family's hometown of Palo Alto, California, from age three.[2] His father, William senior, was a mining engineer who speculated in mines for a living, and spoke eight languages. His mother, Mary, grew up in the American West, graduated from Stanford University, and became the first female US Deputy mining surveyor.[3]

He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1932. While still a student, Shockley married Iowan Jean Bailey in August 1933. In March 1934 Jean had a baby girl, Alison; she also had a son, Richard (Dick). Shockley was awarded his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936. The title of his doctoral thesis was Electronic Bands in Sodium Chloride, and was suggested by his thesis advisor, John C. Slater. After receiving his doctorate, he joined a research group headed by Clinton Davisson at Bell Labs in New Jersey. The next few years were productive ones for Shockley. He published a number of fundamental papers on solid state physics in Physical Review. In 1938, he got his first patent, "Electron Discharge Device" on electron multipliers.

When World War II broke out, Shockley became involved in radar research at the labs in Whippany, New Jersey. In May 1942 he took leave from Bell Labs to become a research director at Columbia University's Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Group.[4] This involved devising methods for countering the tactics of submarines with improved convoying techniques, optimizing depth charge patterns, and so on. This project required frequent trips to the Pentagon and Washington, where Shockley met many high ranking officers and government officials. In 1944 he organized a training program for B-29 bomber pilots to use new radar Bombsights. In late 1944 he took a three month tour to bases around the world to assess the results. For this project, Secretary of War Robert Patterson awarded Shockley the Medal for Merit on October 17, 1946.

In July 1945, the War Department asked Shockley to prepare a report on the question of probable casualties from an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Shockley concluded:

  1. REDIRECT Template:Quote
  • From a merge: This is a redirect from a page that was merged into another page. This redirect was kept in order to preserve this page's edit history after its content was merged into the target page's content. Please do not remove the tag that generates this text (unless the need to recreate content on this page has been demonstrated) nor delete this page.

This prediction influenced the decision for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender without an invasion.[5]

Solid-state transistor

Shortly after the end of the war in 1945, Bell Labs formed a Solid State Physics Group, led by Shockley and chemist Stanley Morgan, which included John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, physicist Gerald Pearson, chemist Robert Gibney, electronics expert Hilbert Moore, and several technicians. Their assignment was to seek a solid-state alternative to fragile glass vacuum tube amplifiers. Its first attempts were based on Shockley's ideas about using an external electrical field on a semiconductor to affect its conductivity. These experiments failed every time in all sorts of configurations and materials. The group was at a standstill until Bardeen suggested a theory that invoked surface states that prevented the field from penetrating the semiconductor. The group changed its focus to study these surface states and they met almost daily to discuss the work. The rapport of the group was excellent, and ideas were freely exchanged.[6]

By the winter of 1946 they had enough results that Bardeen submitted a paper on the surface states to Physical Review. Brattain started experiments to study the surface states through observations made while shining a bright light on the semiconductor's surface. This led to several more papers (one of them co-authored with Shockley), which estimated the density of the surface states to be more than enough to account for their failed experiments. The pace of the work picked up significantly when they started to surround point contacts between the semiconductor and the conducting wires with electrolytes. Moore built a circuit that allowed them to vary the frequency of the input signal easily. Finally they began to get some evidence of power amplification when Pearson, acting on a suggestion by Shockley, put a voltage on a droplet of glycol borate (a viscous chemical that did not evaporate) placed across a P-N junction.[7]

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs, 1948.

December 1947 was Bell Labs' "Miracle Month," when Bardeen and Brattain – working without Shockley – succeeded in creating a point-contact transistor that achieved amplification. Within the next month, Bell Labs' patent attorneys started to work on the patent applications.

Bell Labs' attorneys soon discovered Shockley's field effect principle had been anticipated and devices based on it patented in 1930 by Julius Lilienfeld, who filed his MESFET-like patent in Canada on October 22, 1925.[8][9] Although the patent appeared "breakable" (it could not work) the patent attorneys based one of its four patent applications only on the Bardeen-Brattain point contact design. Three others (submitted first) covered the electrolyte-based transistors with Bardeen, Gibney and Brattain as the inventors. Shockley's name was not on any of these patent applications. This angered Shockley, who thought his name should also be on the patents because the work was based on his field effect idea. He even made efforts to have the patent written only in his name, and told Bardeen and Brattain of his intentions.[10]

At the same time he secretly continued his own work to build a different sort of transistor based on junctions instead of point contacts; he expected this kind of design would be more likely to be commercially viable. The point contact transistor, he believed, would prove to be fragile and difficult to manufacture. Shockley was also dissatisfied with certain parts of the explanation for how the point contact transistor worked and conceived of the possibility of minority carrier injection. Shockley worked out a rather complete description of what he called the "sandwich" transistor, and a first proof of principle was obtained on April 7, 1949.

This resulted in his invention of the junction transistor, which was announced at a press conference on July 4, 1951. Shockley obtained a patent for this invention on September 25, 1951. Different fabrication methods for this device were developed over the next several years, but a diffusion based/photolithographic procedure quickly became the method of choice for many applications. It soon eclipsed the point contact transistor, and it and its offspring became overwhelmingly dominant in the marketplace for many years. Shockley continued as a group head to lead much of the effort at Bell Labs to improve it and its fabrication for two more years.

Meanwhile, Shockley worked furiously on his magnum opus, Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors which was finally published as a 558 page treatise in 1950. In it, Shockley worked out the critical ideas of drift and diffusion and the differential equations that govern the flow of electrons in solid state crystals. Shockley's diode equation is also described. This seminal work became the "bible" for an entire generation of scientists working to develop and improve new variants of the transistor and other devices based on semiconductors.

In 1951, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He was forty-one years old; this was rather young for such an election. Two years later, he was chosen as the recipient of the prestigious Comstock Prize[11] for Physics by the NAS, and was the recipient of many other awards and honors.

The ensuing publicity generated by the "invention of the transistor" often thrust Shockley to the fore, much to the chagrin of Bardeen and Brattain. Bell Labs management, however, consistently presented all three inventors as a team. Though Shockley would correct the record where reporters gave him sole credit for the invention,[12] he eventually infuriated and alienated Bardeen and Brattain, and he essentially blocked the two from working on the junction transistor. Bardeen began pursuing a theory for superconductivity and left Bell Labs in 1951. Brattain refused to work with Shockley further and was assigned to another group. Neither Bardeen nor Brattain had much to do with the development of the transistor beyond the first year after its invention.[13]

Shockley's abrasive management style caused him to be passed over for executive promotion at Bell Labs, which also felt he was a greater asset as a research scientist and theorist. Shockley wanted the power and profit he felt he deserved. He took a leave from Bell Labs in 1953 and moved back to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for four months as a visiting professor.

Shockley Semiconductor

Eventually he was given a chance to run his own company, as a division of a Caltech friend's successful electronics firm. In 1955, Shockley joined Beckman Instruments, where he was appointed as the Director of Beckman's newly founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory division at 391 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, California. With his prestige and Beckman's capital, Shockley attempted to lure some of his former colleagues from Bell Labs to his new lab, but none of them would join him. Instead, Shockley started scouring universities for the brightest graduates to build a company from scratch, one that would be run "his way".

"His way" could generally be summed up as domineering and increasingly paranoid. In one well-known incident, he claimed that a secretary's cut thumb was the result of a malicious act and he demanded lie detector tests to find the culprit.[14] It was later demonstrated the cut was caused by a broken thumbtack on the office door, and the research staff was henceforth increasingly hostile. Meanwhile, his demands to create a new and technically difficult device (originally called a Shockley diode and now modified to become the thyristor), meant that the project was moving very slowly.

In late 1957, eight of Shockley's researchers, who called themselves "The Traitorous Eight," resigned after Shockley decided not to continue research into silicon-based semiconductors. [15] After a meeting with Sherman Fairchild and procurement of seed capital from Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, they started Fairchild Semiconductor. "The Traitorous Eight" included Robert Noyce and Gordon E. Moore, who would later leave Fairchild and form Intel Corporation. Other offspring companies of Fairchild Semiconductor include National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices.

Thus, over the course of just 20 years, a mere eight of Shockley’s former employees gave forth 65 new enterprises, which then went on to do the same....[16] Shockley Semiconductor and these companies formed the nucleus of what became Silicon Valley, which revolutionized the world of electronics and, indeed, the world itself.

While Shockley was still trying to get his three-state device to work, Fairchild and Texas Instruments both introduced the first integrated circuits, making Shockley's work in that area essentially superfluous. Shockley did manage to get the three-state device to work but failed to make it commercially successful.

In 1961 he and Hans Queisser derived the maximal theoretical efficiency of a simple solar cell, subsequently known as the Shockley-Queisser limit.

The firm was sold in 1960 and became a part of ITT in 1968.


Shockley was popular as speaker, lecturer, and an amateur magician. He once magically produced a bouquet of roses at the end of his address before the American Physical Society. He was also famed in his early years for his elaborate practical jokes.[17] He became an accomplished rock climber, going often to the Shawangunks in the Hudson River Valley, where he pioneered a route across an overhang, known to this day as "Shockley's Ceiling."[7]

He was first to propose a lognormal distribution to model the creation process for scientific research papers.[18]

He was an atheist.[19]

Later years

Shockley separated from his wife Jean in the spring of 1954, divorcing her that summer. Shortly after forming Shockley Semiconductor, on November 23, 1955, Shockley married Emmy Lanning, a teacher of psychiatric nursing from upstate New York. They had a very happy marriage that lasted until his death in 1989.

In July 1961, Shockley, his wife, and son Dick were involved in a serious automobile accident: Shockley required several months to recover from his injuries.

When Shockley was eased out of the directorship of Shockley Semiconductor, he joined Stanford University, where he was appointed the Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.[20]

Shockley's last patent was granted in 1968, for a rather complex semiconductor device.

Statements about populations and genetics

Late in his life, Shockley became intensely interested in questions of race, intelligence, and eugenics. He thought this work was important to the genetic future of the human species, and came to describe it as the most important work of his career, even though expressing such politically unpopular views risked damaging his reputation. When asked why he seemed to take positions associated with both the political right and left, Shockley explained that his goal was "the application of scientific ingenuity to the solution of human problems."[21]

Shockley argued that the higher rate of reproduction among the less intelligent was having a dysgenic effect, and that a drop in average intelligence would ultimately lead to a decline in civilization.[22] Shockley advocated that the scientific community should seriously investigate questions of heredity, intelligence, and demographic trends, and suggest policy changes if he was proven right.[23]

Although Shockley was concerned about dysgenic effects among both blacks and whites, he perceived the situation among blacks as more problematic. According to 1970 US Census, unskilled and skilled whites had on average 3.7 and 2.3 children, respectively, whereas the corresponding numbers for blacks were 5.4 and 1.9.[24] Shockley expressed concern that the black population would become progressively less intelligent, countering all the gains that had been made by the Civil Rights movement. Shockley's views on this topic, expressed in his publications and lectures, were based in part on the work of Cyril Burt who was discredited by the scientific community in the 1970s, known as the Burt Affair, but was later vindicated by the works of Arthur Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton in 1997 when they too showed very similar results as Burt. Shockley also proposed that individuals with IQs below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization.

He donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank founded by Robert Klark Graham in hopes of spreading humanity's best genes. The bank, called by the media the "Nobel Prize sperm bank," claimed to have three Nobel Prize-winning donors, though Shockley was the only one to publicly acknowledge his donation to the sperm bank. However, Shockley's controversial views brought the Repository for Germinal Choice notable publicity and may have discouraged other Nobel Prize winners from donating sperm.[25]

While the "Nobel sperm bank" issue was in the news, Playboy magazine published in its August 1980 issue a lengthy interview with Shockley. Although Hugh Hefner, the magazine's publisher, was not particularly sympathetic to Shockley's views, this in-depth interview nonetheless provided an opportunity for the professor to clarify his views on eugenics and the social implications of racial differences, and to defend his side of the controversy to a wider audience. In 1981 he filed a libel suit against the Atlanta Constitution after a reporter called him a "Hitlerite" and compared his racial views to those of the Nazis. Shockley won the suit but received only US$1 in damages.[26][27] Shockley's biographer sums this up as saying that the statement was defamatory, but Shockley's reputation was not worth much by the time the trial reached a verdict.[28]

In his later years Shockley took several precautions to improve his interactions with the media, to little avail. He taped his telephone conversations with reporters, and then sent the transcript to them by registered mail. At one point he toyed with the idea of making them take a simple quiz on his work before discussing the subject with them. His habit of saving all his papers, even laundry lists, provides abundant documentation for researchers on his life.[29]

Edgar G. Epps argued that "William Shockley's position lends itself to racist interpretations".[30] Daniel J. Kevles mentioned that Shockley "invited ridicule as a racist and biological ignoramus".[31][32] Anthropologist and eugenics advocate Roger Pearson[33] has defended Shockley, arguing that Shockley’s views were misrepresented in the popular media by journalists who lacked a proper understanding of the topics Shockley wrote about, and that his views were in fact shared by many other scholars who were reluctant to publicly defend him due to fear of being attacked themselves.[34]


He died in 1989 of prostate cancer.[1]

By the time of his death he was almost completely estranged from most of his friends and family, except his wife. His children are reported to have learned of his death only through the print media.[35]

A group of about 30 colleagues, who have met on and off since 1956, met at Stanford in 2002 to reminisce about their time with Shockley and his central role in sparking the information technology revolution, its organizer saying "Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley."[36]



Shockley was granted over ninety US patents. Some notable ones are:

  • US 2502488  "Semiconductor Amplifier". Applied for on Sept. 24, 1948; his first granted patent involving transistors.
  • US 2569347  "Circuit element utilizing semiconductive material" His earliest applied for (June 26, 1948) patent involving transistors.
  • US 2655609  "Bistable Circuits". Applied for on July 22, 1952; Used in computers.
  • US 2787564  "Forming Semiconductive Devices by Ionic Bombardment". Applied for on Oct. 28, 1954; The diffusion process for implantation of impurities.
  • US 3031275  "Process for Growing Single Crystals". Applied for on Feb. 20, 1959; Improvements on process for production of basic materials.
  • US 3053635  "Method of Growing Silicon Carbide Crystals". Applied for on Sept. 26, 1960; Exploring other semiconductors.


Prewar scientific articles by Shockley

  • An Electron Microscope for Filaments: Emission and Adsorption by Tungsten Single Crystals, R. P. Johnson and W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 49, 436 - 440 (1936).
  • Optical Absorption by the Alkali Halides, J. C. Slater and W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 50, 705 - 719 (1936).
  • Electronic Energy Bands in Sodium Chloride, William Shockley, Phys. Rev. 50, 754 - 759 (1936).
  • The Empty Lattice Test of the Cellular Method in Solids, W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 52, 866 - 872 (1937).
  • On the Surface States Associated with a Periodic Potential, William Shockley, Phys. Rev. 56, 317 - 323 (1939).
  • The Self-Diffusion of Copper, J. Steigman, W. Shockley and F. C. Nix, Phys. Rev. 56, 13 - 21 (1939).

Books by Shockley

  • Shockley, William – Electrons and holes in semiconductors, with applications to transistor electronics, Krieger (1956) ISBN 0-88275-382-7.
  • Shockley, William and Gong, Walter A – Mechanics Charles E. Merrill, Inc. (1966).
  • Shockley, William and Pearson, Roger – Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems Scott-Townsend (1992) ISBN 1-878465-03-1.

Books about Shockley

  • Joel N. Shurkin; Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2006) ISBN 1-4039-8815-3
  • Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson; Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age. New York: Norton (1997) ISBN 0-393-31851-6 pbk.
  • Roger Pearson; Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems. Washington DC: Scott Townsend Publishers (1992) ISBN 1-878465-26-0 pbk.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  2. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=04050875
  3. Broken Genius, p 4
  4. Broken Genius p. 65–67
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  6. Brattain quoted in Crystal Fire p. 127
  7. 7.0 7.1 Crystal Fire p.132
  8. US 1745175  "Method and apparatus for controlling electric current" first filing in Canada on 22.10.1925
  9. Lilienfeld[dead link]Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  10. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  11. Comstock Prize
  12. http://www.pbs.org/transistor/album1/shockley/shockley3.html
  13. Crystal Fire p. 278
  14. Crystal Fire p. 247
  15. 10 Days That Changed History, By ADAM GOODHEART, Published: July 2, 2006 - NYTimes.com
  16. A Legal Bridge Spanning 100 Years: From the Gold Mines of El Dorado to the “Golden” Startups of Silicon Valley by Gregory Gromov
  17. Crystal Fire p. 45
  18. The Artful Universe by John D. Barrow, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 239
  19. Crystal Fire p. 133
  20. Broken Genius, p 196
  21. Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 48
  22. Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 197
  23. Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 213
  24. Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 278
  25. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  26. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  27. He was represented by Murray M. Silver, Esq., Attorney at Law, Atlanta, Georgia. See Time Magazine, September 24, 1984, Page 62.
  28. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  29. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  30. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  31. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  32. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  33. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  34. Pearson, Roger (1992). Shockley on Eugenics and Race, pg. 15-49. Scott-Townsend Publishers. ISBN 1878465031
  35. Bill Shockley, Part 3 of 3
  36. William Shockley: Still controversial, after all these years: 10/02
  37. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.

External links