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"[My first year] I took a course in electrochemical engineering. This was reputed to be so difficult that the senior students of whom I was acquainted were discouraged, but I persisted. Nine of us were registered in that course, and at the end of the freshman year there were three of us remaining." 
-- Russell Ohl, in a January 6, 1975 

"There were a great many enemies to this work with semiconductors; you have no idea how many people opposed that. Vacuum tube people said that there is nothing to it and it is all a lot of tommyrot, and that sort of thing."
-- Russell Ohl, January 6 1975


Russell Ohl

Russell Ohl was born in January, 1898, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He accelerated quickly through high school and entered Pennsylvania State University at the age of 16. His senior year he took a course in vacuum tubes -- used at the time for radio. He didn't quite believe the theories of how radios worked so he built a makeshift radio with his friends in his chemical fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma. On the first try they heard signals being broadcast through the air. Ohl was amazed and the radio bug bit him. He was to continue research in radio for the rest of his life. 

Ohl began working at Bell Labs in June of 1927. At that point, radio tuners were only able to pick up the lowest frequencies. Ohl wanted to find a receiver that could handle higher frequencies, and he thought semiconductors might be the answer. Several times the management at Bell Labs tried to shift him into other directions of research, but he always managed to convince them to let him keep working with crystals. It paid off when Ohl accidentally discovered the P-N barrier in silicon -- a flaw which led to spontaneous current in a silicon crystal when light was shined on it. 

Ohl continued to work in solid state physics at Bell until he retired in 1958. (And then he kept right on working, publishing papers even after he retired.) Most of his work concerned semiconductor crystals themselves -- determining how best to grow them and how best to dope them.

-- Russell Ohl interview with Frank Polkinghorn, 6 January, 1975. IEEE History Center.
-- Russell Ohl interview with Lillian Hoddeson, 19 and 20 August, 1976. AIP 
-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 

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