"Brattain and Bardeen, I would say, they loved
one another as much as two men can. They were two very complementary human
beings. It was like Bardeen was the brains of this joint organism and
Brattain was the hands."
"When John Bardeen went home that evening, all
he said to Jane was, 'I think we discovered something today.' She was
busy getting dinner and didn't pay much attention to it." Bob
Brattain, (brother of Walter Brattain)
"I'd just gone to the University of Illinois where they were expanding the field which we were both active in, and I went to the dean and said, 'Look, here's your chance to get a world beater,' and he managed with some difficulty, but by piecing pieces of budget together, to make him a reasonable offer. I thought they should have offered him more, but when I mentioned the figure to John, he said, 'That's enough for me!' — Fred Seitz, solid state scientist and Bardeen's grad school colleague
An Industrious Job Offer
John Bardeen had met William Shockley when they were both in school in Massachusetts. In 1945, when World War 2 ended,
Shockley was put in charge of a new research group at Bell Labs and he wanted Bardeen on the team. Since Bell offered Bardeen twice his salary at Minnesota, Bardeen didn't have to think long about the offer. John and Jane Bardeen, along with their three young children, moved to New Jersey.
Bardeen also knew another member
of the group, Walter Brattain,
from his grad school days. Bardeen was introduced to Walter Brattain
by Bardeen's good friend Bob, Walter's brother. Over the years their
friendship grew, both in the lab and on the golf course where they spent
time on the weekends. The two made a great team, with Brattain putting
together the experiments and Bardeen weaving theories to explain the
The First Transistor
In the spring of 1947, Shockley set Brattain and Bardeen a task: explain why an amplifier he'd devised didn't work. At the heart of this amplifier was a crystal of silicon (they would switch to germanium several months later). To figure out what was going on, Bardeen had to remember some of the quantum mechanics research that had been done on semiconductors while he was at Princeton in the 1930s. He had also come up with some new theories himself. By observing Brattain's experiments, Bardeen realized that everyone had been assuming electrical current traveled through all parts of the germanium in a similar way. That was wrong: electrons behaved differently at the surface of the metal. If Brattain and Bardeen could control what was happening at the surface, the amplifier should work. It took them until the end of 1947, but on December 23 the pair succeeded. They had built the first point-contact transistor.
After the invention of the transistor, the mood in the lab took a turn for the worse. Shockley resented the fact that he missed the invention. He went to work on his own, developing the improved, more stable junction or sandwich transistor.
Relationships fell apart completely when Shockley blocked Bardeen from working on things that interested him. By 1951 Bardeen had started looking for a new job. When his friend Fred Seitz convinced the University of Illinois to make Bardeen an offer of $10,000 a year, he left Bell Labs with little regrets. In a memo to Mervin Kelly he wrote: "My difficulties stem from the invention of the transistor. Before that there was an excellent research atmosphere here."
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