We have learned this week that Shockley invented the transistor, and then Jack Kilby had the idea to build multiple transistors, or complete circuits at the same time on Silicon. We now had the integrated circuit. With these techniques, people soon realized that you could batch fabricate 1,000 transistors on a circuit for no more cost than building one, if you just made the transistors smaller. Very quickly the race began to make smaller transistors, so more could be packed onto a chip, creating more powerful and capable circuits. This race very quickly came to a standstill. What happened is that as you try to make smaller transistors, manufacturing becomes very difficult because any speck of dust in the air that landed on the silicon during fabrication would ruin a transistor, making the entire circuit not work. People then tried to make ultra-clean rooms, but to no avail. The little particles would still end up flying around the room, eventually finding a circuit to ruin. This is where today's Genius came in . . . Willis Whitfield, who is pictured above with his invention. Willis realized that the way to get the particles all out of a room was to create a situation where the airflow was Laminar and not turbulent. That is, he designed a room where the airflow was directed straight down from the top of the room to the bottom of the room, out the floor, and then through filters, before being sent back into the top of the room. There were lots of technical details to creating Laminar Flow, but with success you create ultra-pristinely- clean manufacturing rooms. It was this idea of Laminar Flow Clean Rooms which allowed the manufacture of intgrated circuits to go beyond having a few transistors each to today's circuits which might have in excess of 10 Billion transistors each.
Willis Whitfield worked at Sandia National Laboratories. I worked at Sandia from 1983 to about 2000. I remember seeing Willis Whitfield, but I don't remember ever meeting him. The ironic thing is that I was responsible for managing Sandia's Microelectronic Manufacturing facilities. I knew about Willis, but just never had the chance to sit down and talk to him. He did come by one day later in life and have his picture taken at our state of the art Laminar Flow Clean Room. Picture is shown below.