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Shockley's 1948 notebook entry describing the junction transistor



Shockley published his famous book on the theory of semiconductors, Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors, in 1951.




Celebration with Shockley Semiconductor colleagues November 1, 1956, when Shockley won Nobel Prize


Part 3(1, 2)

William Shockley

Confusion over credit

Confusion spread to the press. Occasionally, a writer would give Shockley the sole credit, since he was the most prominent and public of the researchers. Shockley always corrected the record. To Newsweek, he wrote:
As the senior transistor hunter of our group, I congratulate you on your excellent article. You state that I came upon the principle while investigating the behavior of semiconductors to amplify words instead of electricity. May I add that I came on it only after it was found and displayed by Drs. John Bardeen and Walter Brattain to whom credit for the invention is due?
Bell Labs added to the confusion by insisting, not entirely inaccurately, that the general research program was "initiated and directed" by Shockley. The official line oversimplified the work. No one asked why Shockley's name was not on the original patent. (His name is on the junction transistor patent.) Shockley never tried to take credit from Brattain and Bardeen, but put great effort into making sure he was included. Confusion over credit still persists: The three men won the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics. Shockley's award has always rankled those who learned to hate him.

Brattain refused to work for him again. Rather than work with Shockley, Bardeen quit.

Mid-life crisis

In February 1953, Jean was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Shockley took over directing her care and she recovered. While she was recovering, however, he announced that he was leaving her. Shockley also left Bell Labs, taking a job back at Caltech while he explored his options.

A year later he met a psychiatric nurse, Emily Lanning. They were married Nov. 23, 1955 in Columbus, Ohio. They began a long love affair that lasted for more than 30 years.

Beckman and Silicon Valley
Shockley semiconductor


Shockley was about to create one of the greatest economic and technological engines the world has ever seen. He decided he would partner with entrepreneur Arnold Beckman to build semiconductors. Beckman would finance a company for Shockley,Shockley Semiconductor, to build semiconductors. They decided the firm would be near Stanford, in Northern California. He liked the advantages of being near the university, which he considered his hometown. He understood that the natural beauty, access to mountains and ocean, the near perfect weather would attract talent. His mother, in her mid-90s, lived nearby.

Shockley by now had convinced himself he was an expert on managing creative people. He used his unequaled eye for talent to bring together an astonishing small team of researchers. Shockley had reached the peak of his power and opportunity.

Then came the fall.

Pride before the fall

Arrogant, unwilling to listen, tactless and determined he would never repeat the mistakes he made with Brattain and Bardeen, Shockley's innate paranoia finally erupted. In September, 1957, less than a year after Shockley won the Nobel Prize, eight of his best researchers, including Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, quit to form their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor. They went on a few years later to create Intel Corp. The men earned incredible fortunes and directed the flow of innovation in the electronic age, essentially achieving Shockley's dream while he could only stand and watch.

His company, bereft of its best talent, floundered. All around him, companies directly descending from Shockley Semiconductor sprang up. Soon parts of the Santa Clara Valley became known as Silicon Valley, and as Shockley glared, more people got richer faster than at any time since Holland in the 17th century. He shared none of the wealth.

In the ultimate irony, today's transistors are based on Shockley's original field effect design. Shockley, however, never manufactured any.

Race to disgrace

He was about to destroy his world. Shockley began teaching at Stanford, and, by all accounts, was a superb teacher. He had studied how to teach creativity, particularly problem-solving, and he put it to use with Stanford undergraduates and engineering graduate students to considerable effect. He even worked in public schools to help teachers teach science. Yet he was bored; physics had begun to pass him by, his company was sold so often it simply disappeared.

He began giving speeches on population problems, an issue that had interested him since his wartime trips to India. In May of 1963, he gave a speech at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota suggesting that the people least competent to survive in the world were the ones reproducing the fastest, while the best of the human population was using birth control and having fewer children. He had slipped into eugenics. 

In an interview a year later with U.S. News & World Report he fell into the trap of discussing race. He pointed out that African Americans as a group scored 15 points lower on IQ tests, and suggested the cause was hereditary.

Shockley found himself -- not unhappily -- in a swirl of controversy. Biologists and geneticists blasted his theories, pointing out that eugenics was a rationale used by the Nazis during World War II, and was an idea that had a weak scientific foundation. Shockley was attacked in print, on television, and in scientific journals.

Battling numbers

The battle was furious, uncivil, and often dishonest. Shockley, a terrible debater, lost his arguments most of the time. Although he had no training in genetics, he studied the field energetically. He was an expert on the use of statistics, and while his opponents, especially in the early years, knew far more about genetics than he did, he could pull apart their statistical arguments easily. Unfortunately for him, even when he scored his points, hardly anyone in the audience noticed.

He was caught in the whirlpool of an ancient debate in science: Are we the product of our genes or are we mostly the product of our environment? Are all men and women truly created equal? Is intelligence genetic? Is race a determining factor? The consensus then and now among scientists without political agendas is that both Shockley and his opponents were at least partially right. We are the product of both our genes and our environment; some aspects of our intelligence are genetic. Race, however, has nothing to do with it. He pursued his argument with his usual thorough scholarship and his almost pathological insensitivity, allowing himself to be painted a racist. The more he was pushed, the more extreme he became, until the debate became about him, not about genetics, undermining his own argument. 

He could not make an appearance without demonstrators showing up. He seemed to revel in the tumult.

The end

He was vilified, ridiculed, humiliated, and eventually forgotten. His reputation in tatters, he retreated to his home on the Stanford campus, sending out an occasional blast of anger, completely estranged from all but his loyal wife, Emmy. He had few friends. He hadn't seen one son in more than 20 years, rarely spoke with the other, and only occasionally spoke to his daughter.

William Shockley died of prostate cancer at the age of 79, Emmy at his side, Aug. 12, 1989. His children read about it in the newspapers.


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