Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shockley



Welcome to Genius Week here at OPOD where we will be looking at some super smart people that changed the way the world works. We start with this picture of William Shockley, who is in the middle. Shockley, along with John Bardeen (left) and Walter Brattain (right) invented the transistor. The transistor is one of the all time most important inventions. You see, all computers and most all electronic devices work based off of all information being represented by 0's and 1's.  These can be realized by use of switches . . . an on switch represents a "1" and an off switch represents a "0". The very earliest computers used vacuum tubes as the on/off switches, but these were big, bulky, expensive, power hungry, hot, and they broke down frequently. The gentlemen in this picture figured out how to make a solid state switch in a piece of silicon, which they called the transistor. The transistor is small, cheap, low power, has no moving parts, and lasts virtually forever. It was this invention of the transistor that ushered in the computer age.

Shockley is generally the one most remembered for the invention. While a genius, by most accounts he was not a very nice man, and had trouble getting along with people. I think that this is not an unusual trait for uber-brilliant people. They somehow lack that social intuition that most folks have. 

4 comments:

  1. So that's why I have trouble getting along with people?!!!

    Vacuum tubes were contrary devices, but actually very stable if you just left them on. The Brits used them to break Nazi codes during WWII. By leaving them on all the time, they were able to avoid the "breaking down frequently" part of vacuum tubes.

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  2. That was a mighty, mighty contribution to the world.

    I remember our old TV had tubes the size of cucumbers in it and it was always in need of service !

    I am going to like Genius Week.

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  3. That's why people often make fun of engineers.

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  4. Mr. Shockley reminds me of Steve Jobs a bit. Another smart man who was sometimes lacking in social graces as well.
    -Anne K.

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