William Shockley and solid state electronics
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
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William Shockley and solid state electronics
The transistor
Beyond success

The traitorous eight

In 1957 seven engineers including Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Jean Hoerni left Shockley Semiconductors to start Fairchild Semiconductors.

In 1968 Noyce and Moore took off again - this time to form Intel and we all know where that led. 

Shockley regarded the group who left with contempt - he usually referred to them as "the traitorous eight".

eight

"the traitorous eight" sat below the Fairchild logo

However Shockley's management style was naive and very strange. He made salaries public in an attempt to stop secrets. When a delay made him suspect sabotage he insisted that an employee took a lie detector test. In 1960 the company was purchased but Shockley stayed on as a consultant. He lectured at Stanford and eventually returned to Bell as a consultant in 1965.

Eugenics

This would be more or less the end of the story - a Nobel prize, the co-inventor of the transistor and the creator of the silicon valley phenomenon - but Shockley strayed outside physics and engineering.

He believed in and promoted a form of eugenics - the idea that humans should be bred to improve the species rather than allowed to propagate haphazardly.

I'm sure that Shockley thought that the idea was entirely logical and not in the least bit threatening but any theory even close to eugenics has the tendency to be branded as some sort of right wing search for the master race or at the very least an unpleasant form of racism.

Shockley had to put up with his lectures being disrupted by demonstrators and many threats to his life. Yet he always stood firm for the right of his opponents to say what they were saying. At one demonstration where the students were chanting "Off Shockley" their microphone went on the blink - he fixed it for them!

For all his benevolence and paternalism  his suggestions - paying people with a low IQ and genetic diseases to be sterilised and setting up sperm banks for high IQ donors - seem distasteful even if you treat them as the outcome of a rigorous logic. But Shockley wasn't a geneticist and was an amateur in the field - he was accused of using pseudo science to back up his political views.  In 1980 he brought a libel suit against a newspaper who had claimed that he was a Nazi. He won but was only awarded $1 in damages.

He tried to be adopted as a Republican candidate for the senate  in 1982 but only got 8000 votes. As time went on he was more and more willing to talk about his theories of eugenics and less and less about the transistor, electronics and solid state physics. In time he became  notorious rather than famous for what he had done.

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