Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Profiles of Scientists



Lesson 2

Scientists at Work: What’ll they think of next?


Students work in groups to select an electronic invention and research who and what was involved in its development. Then they create a display that summarizes the main events surrounding the invention’s development.


  • To understand the value of teamwork in solving problems

  • To identify the function of previous research, serendipity, and diverse personalities in the process of invention


    The 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics went to William Shockley, Walter Brattain, and John Bardeen for the invention of the transistor. But these talented scientists did not act alone. Their success depended on a rush of profound advances in physics in the first decades of the 20th century as well as the work of their own colleagues.

    First transistor

    William Roentgen discovered X-rays at the end of the 19th century. In the same period, J. J. Thomson discovered the electron. At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Planck revealed the quantum nature of energy on the atomic scale. Albert Einstein applied the quantum concept to the relationship between photons of light and electrons. And Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli developed the basic ideas of quantum mechanics, which gave scientists the tools to investigate matter at the atomic level.

    These are the giants of 20th century physics. But teams of Bell Labs scientists who remain largely unknown also made the transistor possible. Russell Ohl, for example, discovered how to add the impurities to silicon that produced its unique electrical properties. Chemists Morgan Sparks and Gordon Teal made the early breakthroughs in growing the crystalline semiconductors that the first transistors were made of.

    And Mervin Kelly, a scientist-turned-administrator, provided the vision that drove the Bell Labs research program. As Isaac Newton stated centuries before about his own discoveries, "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."


    Point out that much of scientific discovery requires teamwork. Write the preceding quote from Isaac Newton on the board. Ask: What do you think Newton meant? What examples can you give where others "stood on the shoulders of giants?" Discuss how the quote applies to scientific research.

    Show Act I of the video Transistorized!. As students watch, have them list examples where scientists built upon the work of others to develop their own ideas. Have students discuss each example and offer ideas about how the scientists’ work might have been affected without the knowledge gained from earlier work.


    Prepare students for the project by asking: What electronic inventions interest you? List students’ answers on the board. You might want to list some examples such as microwave ovens, fax machines, lasers, copiers, computers, and video games. Encourage thought and brief discussion about the inventions with these questions: What do you know about their invention? Who was involved in their development? Who received credit for the inventions? What were these people like? What did they need to know? What skills did they need to have? Did each member of the team have the same skills?

    Explain that teams of students will answer these and other questions in this project as they probe the process of invention.


    After teams have presented their findings, hold a class discussion about the process of invention. At a minimum, students should be able to:

    • list instances in which teamwork played a significant role during the development of an invention.

    • identify earlier inventions and discoveries that laid the groundwork for later inventions.

    • describe the role of any accidental results—serendipity—in the development of an invention.

    • recognize that assigning credit for an invention may be a complex issue.


    What You’re Going To Do

    You’re going to work in a team to select an electronic invention and research who and what was involved in its development. Your team will then create a display that summarizes the main events of that invention.

    What You’ll Need

    • large sheet of poster board

    • markers and other art supplies

    • variety of reference materials about electronic inventions, including books, magazines, software, and web sites

    How To Do It

    1. Search through reference materials and use your own knowledge to make a list of electronic inventions. Identify the invention your team would like to learn more about. Each team member should investigate one or more of the questions below. You might want to visit the Transistorized! web site at to see how these questions would be answered for the invention of the transistor.

    • Why was the invention developed? What problem did the invention solve or need did it satisfy? For whom was the invention developed?

    • How was the invention developed? What role, if any, did accident—serendipity—play in its development?

    • Who was directly involved in developing the invention? What was the role of each person?

    • What knowledge did each researcher need? What skills did each research team need?

    • What earlier inventions, theories, or knowledge did the researchers use in their work?

    • Who received the credit for the invention? Why? Were any of the contributors overlooked?

    • What personality traits did each researcher have? How did these traits influence the researcher’s role in the invention?

    • What other inventions were developed as a result of your chosen invention?

    2. Organize the information. On a large sheet of poster board, create a "family tree" of labeled pictures (or diagrams) showing the inventions, discoveries, scientists, and other researchers that produced your invention.

    3. Present your invention’s family tree to the class. Describe how the invention was developed. Explain the role and personality of each primary researcher who worked on the invention. If possible, provide an example of the invention for the class to observe. Answer any questions your classmates may have about the invention.

    4. After all team presentations are made, discuss any similarities you notice in the development of different inventions.

    What Did You Find Out?

    1. What are some common traits of the researchers who contributed to the inventions studied by the class? How did the traits contribute to the researchers’ success or failure?

    2. In general, how did the inventors use teamwork to solve a problem or complete an invention?

    3. Did researchers always get the experimental results they anticipated? Were any unexpected results useful in developing their invention?

    4. What criteria seemed to be used to assign credit for inventions?

    Try This!

    • Prepare a multimedia presentation of your team’s work. You might use HyperStudio or PowerPoint for your presentation.
    • Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain were physicists. Find out what role chemists played in the development of the transistor. What were the key discoveries in chemistry and who made them? Report your findings.
    • Conduct a survey of several companies who have Research and Development facilities, such as General Electric, IBM, Intel, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, and 3M. Find out each company’s policy regarding inventions designed and built by company employees. Are the employees’ names included on the patent application? Do employees receive any monetary benefits? Report the results of your survey.

    Lucent These educational materials are made possible by a grant from The Lucent Technologies Foundation and may be duplicated for educational non-commercial use.

    To order the video call PBS Learning Media at 1-800-344-3337.

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