Gerald Pearson

Salem, OR; 1905

Gerald Pearson was one of the few scientists at Bell who worked on the transistor almost every step of the way.  He was one of the first researchers transferred into the solid state science group which invented the transistor, and Pearson continued to work on the transistor's development throughout the next 12 years he worked at Bell.

Pearson was born in Salem, Oregon on March 31, 1905.  He went to Willamette University for college and on to Stanford for his master's degree in physics.  When he finished at Stanford in 1929, he began to work at Bell Labs. In 1945, when science groups at Bell were reorganized, he was put into a lab dedicated to studying solid state physics.  He shared an office with Walter Brattain -- the two men had worked together before and had become friends.  They smoked cigars together in their office, filling the room with smoke.  

Pearson's work in the early days of the lab was to study the way current moved through the body of a semiconductor crystal.  Later on, when John Bardeen developed theories that it was the surface states that were crucial to building a transistor, Pearson helped study the surface properties of semiconductors.  After the transistor was invented, Pearson continued to work with Shockley to develop an improved model.  One of Pearson's crucial contributions was to build thin semiconductor filaments less than a hundredth of an inch thick -- these could be used instead of the metal leads in a point-contact transistor making for a transistor that was easier to build -- and a lot quieter, since current crossing from the crystal to the metal made a lot of noise. 

In 1957, Pearson was promoted to head of the department of applied solid state physics at Bell, where he stayed until 1960.  He left Bell in 1960 to become a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University.

-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 
-- American Men and Women of Science, 1972 edition 
-- "The Genesis of the Transistor, Memorandum for Record" by W.S. Gorton in A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: Physical Sciences (1925-1980), S. Millman, ed. 



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