"One day one of our colleagues by the name of Bob Wallace was sitting in on a meeting we had, and we must have been bemoaning this problem. And he said look, you've got it all wrong. The strength of the transistor is that it is small, and that it is low power. They can be so close together that the time it takes for signals to go from one side to the other will be very small, and this is exactly what we need in complex logic processing that we use in telephone switching, and in computation. And you know, that was a revelation to us."
-- Ian Ross, interview 12/23/97


Ian Ross

Ian Ross never had any intention of staying in the US. When William Shockley hired him to work in semiconductors at Bell Labs in 1952, Ross figured he'd move home to his native England after a year. Little did he know that he wasn't destined to leave Bell for another forty years -- after a 12 year stint as the company's president.

Ross was born in Southport, England on August 15, 1927. He went to college at Cambridge University and stayed on to earn his Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After six years in the little college town of Cambridge he was ready to do some traveling, so when Shockley visited the lab and offered him a job, Ross jumped at the chance to do some traveling.

He arrived in Murray Hill just after Brattain and Bardeen had left the Shockley group. Other labs were now taking care of basic semiconductor research -- Shockley's group focused exclusively on improving the transistor. Ross says that at first working with the transistor was frustrating because it was so small, but they soon realized its very smallness meant it could be used in even more complex devices like integrated circuits.

Within a few years, Ross was promoted to head his own group which focused much more directly on producing integrated circuits, though Bell Labs was never to be the main force behind creating such complex devices.

Eventually, Ross was promoted all the way up the ladder to president of Bell Labs. Presiding from 1979 to 1991, he oversaw the reorganization following the breakup of the Bell System.


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