"I cannot overemphasize the rapport of this group. We would meet together to discuss important steps almost on the spur of the moment of an afternoon. We would discuss things freely. I think many of us had ideas in these discussion groups, one person's remarks suggesting an idea to another. We went to the heart of many things during the existence of this group, and always when we go to the place where something needed to be done, experimental or theoretical, there was never any question as to who was the appropriate man in the group to do it." - Walter Brattain

"Shockley had enough brains to leave them alone. Whether he did it deliberately or whether this was just a function of his personality I'm not sure." -Joel Shurkin

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Solid State Science Takes Root at Bell

August 1945

As World War II came to a close, Bell Labs went through a big shake-up. All the scientists were moved into different sections. Some people were promoted, while others moved down the ladder. Bell's president Mervin Kelly was behind the reorganization. He thought the best way to keep AT&T strong was to have a top-notch basic research program.

One of the new divisions was the Solid State Physics group. Kelly suspected that solid state science might provide a new kind of amplifier to replace the vacuum tube in AT&T's phone system. The tubes amplified voice signals as they traveled through the phone wires, but they were reaching the limits of their potential. A solid state amplifier -- sturdier and more efficient than a vacuum tube -- might have other uses as well. Among the most likely customers was the US military. As the cold war got underway, military agencies invested lavish funding into any kind of research that might prove useful in the long run. Kelly knew that his solid state group could help his company -- and would probably have a guaranteed military client down the road.

William Shockley and chemist Stanley Morgan were placed in charge of the new group. Other Bell researchers such as Walter Brattain, Gerald Pearson, and Robert Gibney were transferred into the group, and others such as John Bardeen were soon hired.

Shockley ran a subdivision within the larger group that focused on semiconductor research. Their research was based on the quantum mechanics theories about semiconductors that scientists like Eugene Wigner and Frederick Seitz had developed during the 1930s. Everyone who was a part of it agrees it was a phenomenally creative group. One of Shockley's strengths was his ability to pull together the smartest scientists around, and this particular group of minds worked together well. They spent lots of time in front of the blackboard, discussing their work and exchanging ideas. Each researcher had a specific area of expertise, so if one got stuck on an experiment there was always a natural person to turn to for help. Shockley presided over it all, giving them suggestions, yet allowing them the freedom to do work on their own.

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