"[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."
"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."
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.
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