Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS


Go To
A/V Clips
On This Page

Bell Labs

Alternate A/V Clips

Bell Labs

"That was my introduction to solid state. I'd already had some courses, but I learned more in a few months from the other members of this group about what was involved than in all of my previous education."
-- Morgan Sparks 

"Well at our wedding the thing I remember is [Shockley] had somebody jack up the back wheels and leave it that way, with the wheels off the ground. And in those days all cars were rear-wheel driven. So when we got ready to leave. . . And the rice was thrown and all, and I put it in gear -- nothing happened, except spinning our wheels." -- Morgan Sparks 



Morgan Sparks


As scientists began to leave the Shockley group , they were naturally replaced. Morgan Sparks was one of the men who joined the group after the invention of the transistor. But he jumped right in and led the effort to build junction transistors -- taking Shockley's idea and turning it into a workable device. Working with Gordon Teal, Sparks built most of the first junction transistor prototypes, concentrating on figuring out how to grow the necessary semiconductor crystals. 

Sparks grew up in Colorado and earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1943. His first job when he graduated was with Bell Labs. When Robert Gibney left the semiconductor group in the spring of 1948, the group needed a new physical chemist -- Sparks was transferred in.

Sparks got along well with Shockley, and worked closely with him. Sparks also got along well with Shockley's secretary -- Bette MacEvoy. The two socialized a lot with others in the group, and in 1949 they were married. Shockley was at the wedding; he'd gotten quite a reputation for playing practical jokes at that point, and this was no exception. He disabled the bride and groom's getaway car. Everyone laughed as the Sparks tried to speed away and ended up just spinning their wheels in the mud. 

Although Shockley tried to entice Sparks to California when he left, Sparks stayed on at Bell Labs, gradually moving up through the ranks into management. In 1972, he was transferred to New Mexico, as president of Sandia Laboratories, a national lab managed by AT&T. Sparks retired from Bell in 1981. 


Morgan Sparks talks about Bell Labs' cooperation in making the transistor available:
"It was quite different from other laboratories. I think AT&T recognized that, as compensation perhaps for their role as a monopoly, they had some obligations. And so the labs were really very open. And, you know, the transistor, it took a few months to get patents filed and things of that nature, and there was a bit of a battle with the military, who wanted to keep it secret. And the lab's attitude prevailed, and it was essentially thrown open. Licensing agreements were offered to anybody in the world."

Morgan Sparks on Bill Shockley's need for speed:
"Shockley definitely liked to drive a sports car as he thought it should be driven, which is fast. And he, you know, he made a few gestures to safety, in the best he could, as long as it didn't interfere with speed. But he had a little bit of, you know, the daredevil... You know—someday, I'm gonna go someday, and I hope I'll be in charge, and not lying in a hospital someplace from some illness. He didn't have a death wish, as some people, I think, have indicated. But he enjoyed, ah... speed."


-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 
-- Morgan Sparks, interview for "Transistorized!"
-- Rotsky, George. 25th Anniversary-Electronics at the Threshold of the New Millennium: Chapter 1
-- The Revelation. Electronic Engineering Times , (October 30, 1997) 

Copyright 1999, ScienCentral, Inc, and The American Institute of Physics. No portion of this web site may be reproduced without written permission. All Rights Reserved.