Who is the real inventor of integrated circuit?

09/03/2023 Seektronics

In his lifetime, Kilby held more than 60 patents for his inventions. Integrated circuits, micro calculators

On November 8, 1923, a baby boy was born to an ordinary family in Jefferson City, Missouri, USA.


The baby boy's father was Hubert Kilby, an electrical engineer who graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The baby boy's mother, Vina Kilby, also graduated from this school.


The young couple probably did not expect that the little life they welcomed would become a great engineer, inventor, and even a Nobel Prize winner. His contribution to invention would create a huge industry that would change the whole world.


This baby boy is Jack St. Clair Kilby, one of the leading inventors of the integrated circuit and known as the "father of the chip.


Jack Kilby


An engineer's journey


In 1927, when Kilby was four years old, the family moved to Salina, Kansas.


Kilby's father, Herbert Kilby, was the manager of the Kansas Power Company. At the time, Kilby often toured the power plant with his father, watching the generation and transmission equipment. Over time, he became interested in these electrical devices and aspired to become an electrical engineer as well.


In 1937, the Kilby family moved to Great Bend, more than 100 miles from Salina. Here, Kilby spent his high school career.



Jack Kilby as a young man


Upon graduating from high school, Kilby took the MIT entrance exam to fulfill his dream of becoming an engineer. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful by three points (the score was 500 and he got 497).


He had no choice but to attend his parents' alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (It should be noted that the University of Illinois is not a second-rate school, but one of the best public universities in the United States.)


Shortly after enrolling, Pearl Harbor broke out, the United States officially entered World War II, and Jack Kilby joined the U.S. Army.


At the time, he was a radio communications equipment repairman with the Army Communications Corps (U.S. Army Signal Corps), working at a military base in northeast India, specializing in repairing wireless walkie-talkies. He also allegedly traveled to China and participated in several months of combat (under General Stilwell).


Jack Kilby during his military service


The experience of fighting in the war was of great benefit to Kilby's development. He recalled afterward, "Things outside of school can make you mature very quickly. When problems happen, you have to face them, figure them out, solve them, and then you progress."


After World War II, Kilby returned to the University of Illinois to continue his education (tuition was covered by the Army).


In 1947, Kilby successfully earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and joined the staff at Centralab, a central laboratory. Centralab, a research facility of Globe Union in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city, was the first to be established.


While working, Kilby earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by attending night classes. Meanwhile, he married Barbara Annegers and had two daughters.


In 1947, William Shockley, Walter Bratton, and John Bardeen of Bell Labs, USA, together invented the world's first transistor, which took the scientific world by storm.



Kilby also followed the event. He was there to listen to John Badin's lecture (John Badin also graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and the two were considered alumni) and became interested in the transistor. He stated, "[The advent of the transistor] meant that I had taken my course in tube technology for nothing."


In 1952, under pressure from U.S. antitrust laws, Bell Labs began licensing the production of transistors to 38 companies throughout the United States at a low price (a license fee of only $25,000). This included Kilby's company, Global Connections.


After receiving the license, Kilby was sent to Bell Labs for a two-week seminar on transistor technology. During this time, Kilby acquired a lot of transistor knowledge.


Upon returning to the company, Kilby assembled a three-person research and development team. They built transistors and put them on the market, but did not make much profit.


Global Link, despite its name, was actually just a small to medium-sized company. With little profit, they were not willing to continue to invest additional money in transistors. So Kilby began to consider jumping ship and choosing a better development platform.


After some comparison, he finally joined a company that was just entering the electronics industry. This company, which is later the semiconductor giant - Texas Instruments (TI).



From oil to electronics, the rise of a giant


Texas Instruments is a company with a long history. Its predecessor, GSI (Geophysical Service), was founded in 1930 by J. Clarence Karcher and Eugene McDermott.


 The company logo at the time


The main business of this company is geological exploration. To put it bluntly, it was about finding oil (Texas is rich in oil resources).


After GSI was founded, the Great Depression hit the United States, and business was not very good. By the time of World War II, GSI began to transition to producing defense electronics for the U.S. Army and Navy. Their submarine detection equipment, popular with the U.S. Navy, brought in a large number of orders.


In 1951, GSI's laboratory and manufacturing division (which focused on electronics) quickly outperformed the geographic division, and the company was effectively transformed into an electronics industry company. As a result, the company was renamed "General Instrument" (General Instrument). In the same year, the name was changed to "Texas Instruments" and remains the same today.


The evolution of the Texas Instruments logo


In 1952, Texas Instruments was also granted a patent license by Bell Labs.


That year, Gordon K. Teal, who had been working at Bell Labs, joined Texas Instruments as director of research. Two years later, under his leadership, Texas Instruments successfully developed the first commercially available silicon transistor, as well as the first transistor radio, and has since established itself as an industry leader.


The Official Birth of Integrated Circuits


As mentioned earlier, Kilby joined Texas Instruments in 1958.


At the time, Texas Instruments and the U.S. Communications Corps were working together on a project called the "Micro-Module program". The goal of the project was to standardize the size and shape of transistors, resistors, capacitors and other electronic parts, thereby standardizing the interconnection process, reducing circuit space, soldering difficulties and error rates.


Kilby did not think the idea of the micro-module project was reasonable, so he began to study a better solution.


At first, Kilby designed an alternative product. As a result, after a cost analysis, it was found that the cost was too high for mass production. Thus, he was stuck in a research rut.


In August 1958, things took a turn for the worse.


Dallas (Dallas), where Texas Instruments was located, would be very hot in the summer. So the company would give employees a two-week vacation to get away for the summer.


Kilby is a new employee, and not eligible for vacation treatment. So, he had to continue to hold in the company, researching his own project. Perhaps it was because no one was bothered that Kilby soon made a breakthrough.


Kilby thought, the Royal Radar Institute's famous scientist Geoff Dummer (Geoffrey Dummer), in 1952 at a conference, had pointed out: "With the advent of the transistor and the comprehensive study of semiconductors, it now seems conceivable that the future of electronic devices is a solid component without connecting wires. "


Guided by this idea, he discovered that very small microcircuits consisting of many devices could be made on a single wafer. That is, it was possible to make different electronic devices (such as resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors) on a silicon wafer and then connect them with thin wires.


This amazing idea made him feel very excited himself. That day, he recorded his idea in detail in his notebook and even conceived a complete circuit process, writing five whole pages.


Kilby's notes (in part)


Immediately after the vacation, Kilby reported his idea to his immediate supervisor, Willis Adcock, then head of development at Texas Instruments. He suggested that he could make a trigger circuit and verify it.


Willis Adcock's first reaction was that this solution was a bit cumbersome and not very reliable. However, after much consideration, he reluctantly agreed to Kilby's suggestion.


So, Kilby set out to implement his proposal. Initially, Kilby was prepared to use "silicon" as a substrate to make the circuit. However, Texas Instruments did not have a suitable silicon wafer at that time. In desperation, Kilby chose "germanium.


Soon after, on August 28, 1958, Kilby made his own trigger circuit, which worked very well.


On September 12, 1958, Texas Instruments executives gathered in the laboratory. At this point, Kilby confidently demonstrated the circuit integrated in a 7/16-inch-long, 1/16-inch-wide germanium chip.



The circuit is a single transistor oscillator with RC feedback, and the whole thing is glued to a glass carrier sheet, which looks very rudimentary. The circuit's devices, on the other hand, were connected with bits and pieces of thin wire.


In the presence of the crowd, Kilby nervously connected ten volts to the input, and then an oscilloscope connected to the output. A moment of connection, the oscilloscope appeared on the frequency of 1.2 megahertz, the amplitude of 0.2 volts oscillation waveform.


The scene was silent for a while, before a loud applause and cheers. Kilby success, he created the world's first integrated circuit made of a single material (Integrated Circuit). Since then, the development of the human electronics industry has entered a whole new era.


Kilby and his colleagues


On February 6, 1959, Texas Instruments and Kilby filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent Office. In the application, Kilby described his new device as "a semiconductor material ...... in which all components of an electronic circuit are fully integrated."


On March 6, 1959, the American Institute of Radio Engineers (later IEEE) held its annual meeting in New York. Texas Instruments held a high-profile press conference at the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel to officially showcase Kilby's invention to the public.


Mark Shepherd, then head of the semiconductor division of Texas Instruments, was the first to present the Kilby invention. Mark Shepherd (later president of Texas Instruments) said at the press conference, "This is the most significant invention since Texas Instruments announced its entry into the transistor market.


Kilby vs. Noyce, who is the father of the integrated circuit?


While Kilby invented the integrated circuit, another person also made a breakthrough in this field. This man, Robert Norton Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor .



Robert Norton Noyce


I've written about Noyce in detail in my previous Fairchild article (link). He was the first of the "Eight Traitors" as William Shockley called them, one of the founders of Cents, and later one of the founders of Intel.


Cactus was a company co-founded by the "Eight Traitors" and had great strength in semiconductor technology.


Jean Hoerni, one of the "Eight Traitors", invented the very important Planner Process.


In this process, a layer of silicon oxide is added to the silicon wafer as an insulating layer. Then, holes are punched in this layer of insulating silicon oxide and the devices, which have been made with silicon diffusion technology, are connected with aluminum films.


The birth of the planar process enabled Sendo to manufacture high-performance silicon crystal transistors in very small sizes, and also made it possible to connect devices in integrated circuits.


On January 23, 1959, Noyce wrote in his working notes: "By making various devices on the same silicon wafer and connecting them by the planar process, multifunctional electronic circuits can be made. This technology allows circuits to be reduced in size, weight, and bring down costs."


The news of Texas Instruments' announcement of Kilby's invention brought Noyce a great shock. Noyce was very remorseful that he did not move fast enough, on the other hand, he found that Kilby's invention, in fact, there is a big flaw.


Kilby's integrated circuit using fly-by-wire connection, simply can not be mass production, lack of practical value.


Noyce's vision was that all the circuits and individual components of electronic devices would be made into a base plate and then engraved on a silicon wafer, which, once engraved, was the entire circuit and could be used directly to assemble the product. In addition, the use of evaporative deposition of metals could replace thermally soldered wires and completely eliminate flying wires.



Sendong's silicon crystal integrated circuit


On July 30, 1959, Noyce applied for a patent based on his idea: "Semiconductor Device - Wire Structure" .


Strictly speaking, Noyce's invention was closer to an integrated circuit in the modern sense. Noyce's design was based on a silicon-based planar process, while Kilby's design was based on a germanium-based diffusion process. Noyce relied on Centson's silicon process advantage to make a circuit that was indeed more advanced than Kilby's.


However, Kilby's hybrid integrated circuit already had the characteristics of an integrated circuit and was filed much earlier.


As a result, Texas Instruments, to which Kilby belonged, and Centron Semiconductor, to which Noyce belonged, engaged in a fierce patent battle.


For this lawsuit, Kilby said: "No one will have doubts about me being the first person to make an integrated circuit. Dr. Noyce was the first to do what I wanted to do - use evaporated metal to make the connections between devices. What Dr. Noyes did was so far removed from what I had already done that he said he was sympathetic to me as a co-inventor, but I don't think so."


In 1966, the court finally ruled that the invention of the integrated circuit idea (hybrid integrated circuit) was granted to Kilby, and the invention of the integrated circuit used today packaged into a chip (a true integrated circuit), as well as the manufacturing process, was granted to Noyes.


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