"In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it," said Texas Instruments chairman Tom Engibous. "Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Jack Kilby."
The world lost the last of these geniuses on June 20 as Jack Kilby died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 81. Kilby transformed the world by inventing the first monolithic integrated circuit, which paved the way for the high-speed computers and large-capacity semiconductor memories we take for granted today.
Kilby's journey began in rural Kansas, where his father ran a small power company. When Kilby was in high school, a severe ice storm downed telephone and power lines. His father then worked with amateur radio operators to communicate with his customers, scattered across the state. This event triggered Kilby's fascination with electronics.
He studied electronics at the University of Illinois, where he earned his BS in electrical engineering. His first job was at Centralab in Milwaukee, where he developed ceramic-base, silk-screen circuits for consumer electronics. During that time, he also picked up an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin.
But he didn't make his true mark on the industry until May 1958, when he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas to work in microminiaturization. He then spent that summer working with borrowed and improvised equipment. The plant shut down for a mass vacation in August, but as a new employee, Kilby wasn't entitled to the time off. The results of a recent cost analysis at the plant were on his mind, too.
"The only thing a semiconductor house could make in a cost-effective way was a semiconductor. Further thought led me to the conclusion that semiconductors were all that were really required—that resistors and capacitors, in particular, could be made from the same material as the active devices," he said.
"I also realized that since all of the components could be made of a single material, they could also be made in situ, interconnected to form a complete circuit. I then quickly sketched a proposed design for a flip-flop using these components. Resistors were provided by bulk effect in the silicon, and capacitors by p-n junctions," he explained.
Kilby showed the sketches to his boss and got to work building the circuit. On September 12, he successfully demonstrated the first simple microchip in the lab. More work continued, and TI announced the development on March 6, 1959. By 1960, the company released the first chips for customer evaluation. In 1962, TI had a contract to design and build a family of 22 special circuits for the Minuteman missile. It wasn't long before the IC found its way into myriad other products as well. By the end of Kilby's career, he had earned over 60 U.S. patents.
Kilby guided many of these developments during his tenure at TI. He also spent time on leave as an independent consultant, and he was a Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University from 1978 to 1984. While he officially retired from TI in 1983, he continued to consult with the company and maintained a significant relationship with TI throughout the rest of his life.
He earned many significant awards during his career. These include several IEEE honors, such as the David Sarnoff Award in 1966 and the Medal of Honor in 1986. He is one of 13 Americans who have received the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology, the highest technical honors the U.S. government awards. In 2000, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Electronic Design is proud to include him in our Engineering Hall of Fame.
For more about his extraordinary life, go to www.ti.com/corp/docs/kilbyctr/jackstclair.shtml.