William Shockley

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William Bradford Shockley (February 13, 1910August 12, 1989) was a British-born American physicist and inventor.

William Bradford Shockley Jr.
Born 13 February 1910(1910-02-13)
London, England,
United Kingdom
Died 12 August 1989 (aged 79)
Stanford, California,
United States
Nationality American
Institutions Bell Labs
Shockley Semiconductor
Alma mater Caltech
Doctoral advisor John C. Slater
Known for Coinventor of the transistor
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)

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 he also became a staunch advocate of eugenics.



Early years

Shockley was born in London to American parents, and raised in California. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1932. While still a student, Shockley married Iowan Jean Bailey in August 1933. In March 1934 he and Jean had a baby girl, Alison. Shockley was awarded his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936. Notably, 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. 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. 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 bomb sights. 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 of 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:

  • If the study shows that the behavior of nations in all historical cases comparable to Japan's has in fact been invariably consistent with the behavior of the troops in battle, then it means that the Japanese dead and ineffectives at the time of the defeat will exceed the corresponding number for the Germans. In other words, we shall probably have to kill at least 5 to 10 million Japanese. This might cost us between 1.7 and 4 million casualties including 400,000 to 800,000 killed.[1]

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

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; other personnel including Bardeen and 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. Their first attempts were based on Shockley's ideas about using an external electrical field on a semiconductor to affect its conductivity. These experiments mysteriously 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. By the winter of 1946 they had good enough results for Bardeen to submit 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 and suggested that they use glycol borate (gu), a viscous chemical that didn't evaporate. 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 gu placed across a P-N junction.

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

Bell Labs attorneys soon discovered that Shockley's field effect principle had been anticipated and patented in 1930 by Julius Lilienfeld, who filed his MESFET-like patent in Canada already on October 22, 1925. 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 at the same time 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.

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 viable commercially. 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.

Shockley's magnum opus

Shockley was dissatisfied with certain parts of the explanation for how the point contact transistor worked and conceived of the possibility of minority carrier injection. This led Shockley to ideas for what he called a "sandwich transistor." This resulted in 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 but the "diffused-base" method 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.

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 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. Shockley 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.

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 in Mountain View, California at 391 San Antonio Road. 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 famous 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. It was later demonstrated the cut was due to a broken thumbtack on the office door, and from that point the research staff was 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.

Shockley separated from his wife Jean in the spring of 1954, finally divorcing her in the summer of 1954. Shortly after forming the company, 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.

Shockley was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956, along with Bardeen and Brattain. In his Nobel lecture, he gave full credit to Brattain and Bardeen as the inventors of the point-contact transistor. The three of them, together with wives and guests, had a rather raucous late-night champagne-fueled party to celebrate together.

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. Several of the eight met with Sherman Fairchild and described the situation, and the eight started Fairchild Semiconductor after being given seed capital from Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation to form a semiconductor division. Among the "Traitorous Eight" were Robert Noyce and Gordon E. Moore, who themselves would leave Fairchild to create Intel. Other offspring companies of Fairchild Semiconductor include National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices.

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 was a popular speaker/lecturer, an amateur magician and, famously, once magically produced a bouquet of roses at the end of an address before the [[American Physical Society]. He was famed in his early years for his elaborate practical jokes. 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."

He was an atheist, and never attended church.

Later years

In July 1961, Shockley, his wife Emmy, and son Dick were involved in a serious automobile accident: Shockley took several months to recover from his injuries. His firm was sold to Clevite, but never made a profit. When Shockley was eased out of the directorship, he joined Stanford University, where he was appointed the Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.

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

Beliefs 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."

Shockley believed 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. 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.

Although Shockley was concerned about both black and white dysgenic effects, he found the situation among blacks more disastrous. While unskilled whites had 3.7 children on average versus an average of 2.3 children for skilled whites, Shockley found from the 1970 Census Bureau reports that unskilled blacks had 5.4 children versus 1.9 for the skilled blacks.[14] Shockley reasoned that because intelligence (like most traits) is inherited, the black population would, over time, become much less intelligent countering all the gains that had been made by the Civil Rights movement. Shockley's published writings and lectures to scientific organizations on this topic, such as the National Academy of Sciences, were partly based on the research of Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, Cyril Burt and H. J. Eysenck. Shockley also proposed that individuals with IQs below 100 be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization. The Wikipedia does not say that he wrong. Albeit the last point is unattractive.

He donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank founded by Robert Klark Graham in the hope 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 views about the genetic superiority of whites over blacks brought the Repository for Germinal Choice notable negative publicity and discouraged other Nobel Prize winners from donating sperm.

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. He was represented by Murray M. Silver, Esq., Attorney at Law, Atlanta, Georgia. See: Time Magazine, September 24, 1984, Page 62.[2]

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 the reporter 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.

Shockley has been described as a racist, white supremacist, and scientific racist. Eugenics advocate Ernst Mayr, in a letter to to Francis Crick, wrote:-

  • If I may summarize my own viewpoint, it is that positive eugenics is of great importance for the future of mankind and that all roadblocks must be removed that stand in the way of intensifying research in this area. Shockley with his racist views is unfortunately the worst roadblock at this time, at least in this country; hence, his sharp rejection by some of us who are very much in favor of positive eugenics. I do hope I have been able to shed light on our side of the argument.

Professor Mayr was a highly respected anthropologist.

Professor Edgar G. Epps argued that "William Shockley's position lends itself to racist interpretations". html Professor Epps favours higher education for blacks regardless of their ability.

Judith M. Scully called him "William Shockley, the notorious eugenicist and scientific racist". Professor Scully is a lawyer who dispproves of abortion on eugenic grounds. - Cracking open CRACK: Unethical sterilization movement gains momentum

Daniel J. Kevles mentioned that Shockley "invited ridicule as a racist and biological ignoramus". Professor Kevles is an historian and lawyer rather than a biologist.

Roger Pearson, another eugenicist, has defended Shockley, arguing that Shockley, being one of the first to break the taboo on frank discussion of racial differences, has been demonized by the popular media who created an unbalanced picture of his beliefs and opinions. Professor Pearson is an anthropologist which is the relevant area of study.


He died in 1989 of prostate cancer. 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.

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."


  • Shockley was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
  • He received honorary science doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Gustavus Adolphus Colleges in Minnesota.
  • Oliver E. Buckley Solid State Physics Prize of the American Physical Society.
  • Maurice Liebman Memorial Prize from the Institute of Radio Engineers.
  • Holley Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1963.


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

  • US patent 2502488 Semiconductor Amplifier Applied for on Sept. 24, 1948; His first involving transistors .
  • US patent 2655609 Bistable Circuits Applied for on July 22 1952; Used in computers
  • US patent 2787564 Forming Semiconductive Devices by Ionic Bombardment Applied for on Oct. 28, 1954; The diffusion process for implantation of impurities.
  • US patent 3031275 Process for Growing Single Crystals Applied for on Feb. 20, 1959; Improvements on process for production of basic materials.

Books by Shockley

External links


  1. D. M. Giangreco, Casualty Projections For the U.S. Invasions Of Japan, 1945-1946</a>, Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, No. 3 (July 1997), p. 568.
  2. [http://www1.hollins.edu/faculty/richter/327/AbsentCreation.htm Absent at the Creation; How one scientist made off with the biggest invention since the light bulb]
Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.
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