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The Birth and Evolution of Transistors and Impact on the Transport Industry

In: Computers and Technology

Submitted By phantom144
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Electronics rely heavily on electronic switching and amplification to generate and capture the various signals which allow them to operate. A controllable valve that allows a small signal to control a much larger signal does this, and could be related to a controllable valve used in the control of water flow. This was once done by a device known as vacuum tube but was later brought down to a much lower production scale for a variety of industrial, economical and business related reasons. Bell Laboratories, the research arm of telecommunications company American Telephone and Telegraph’s (AT&T) director Mervin Kelly put together the first team of researchers and scientists placed on the task of research and development of a solid state-semiconductor later called a transistor that would supersede vacuum tubes and provide numerous advantages. The success of this development would prove to change the computing, electronics and telecommunications systems altogether.
Up until the invention of the transistor a vacuum tube was used in the control, amplification and generation of electrical signals. Vacuum tubes are tubes usually made from glass and designed in an airtight manner as to keep the flow of “cathode rays” from external disturbance as they pass from each terminal and laid the foundation for numerous technical innovations, such as the light bulb discovered by Thomas Edison (fig. 1). Joseph John Thomson further made a vacuum tube and placed a third terminal to attain a grasp of knowledge on the nature, composition and behavior this would play on cathode rays (for although they were being used at the time there was little known on them), a research which saw him receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics for the year 1906 ( Lee de Forest, an American inventor was the first to put triode vacuum tubes to use, they were used in the amplification of signals, which was patented by telecommunications company American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) in 1906 and was used to amplify signals along telephone which resulted in less drop and clarity during telephone calls along a further region. In 1930, director of research of Bell Labs Marvin Kelly saw that there were incoming and underlying problems to be dealt with concerning the feasibility of vacuum tubes. In 1945, towards the end of World War 2 saw Kelly hiring a team of scientists for the research and development of a new alternative for outdated vacuum tubes which saw them developing on researches that lead to stable radio detection technology which was utilized during the war, this research in part was on a certain class of materials called semiconductors.
A theoretician named William Bradford Shockley (otherwise known as Bill Shockley) was selected as the team leader. Shockley then went on to add Walter Brattain, an experimental physicist from Bell Labs and John Bardeen, a theoretical Physicist from the University of Minnesota. In the Spring of 1943 saw Shockley designing what at the time he was hoping to be the first semiconductor amplifier relying on a condition called “field effect.” This device was a small cylinder with a thin coat of silicon, placed closely to a small, metal plate. The device turned out to be a failure. Shockley then assigned Brattain and Bardeen to figure the cause of this, Bardeen took up the task of suggesting experiments while interpreting results while Brattain designed and built the experiments. In the Christmas season of 1947, saw Walter and Brattain making breakthrough in their research, they had discovered that when signals were passed from one terminal point to another in close vicinity of a sample of germanium, caused amplification. They further went on working without Shockley to produce what was known as the “point-contact transistor,” which was constructed from strips of gold foil on a triangular shaped plastic pushed into the vicinity of a slab of germanium (fig. 2). A few more of these devices were made and series with other components to create an audio amplifier which was viewed by the heads of Bell Labs who quickly saw the potential of these findings. Shockley however wasn’t pleased with this, most in part because he contributed little in the final developments which lead to him making innovations to Bardeen and Brattain’s work. This gave birth to a more practical and rugged device which was also easier to manufacture, called a “junction transistor.” The device quickly became a crucial component of the current age with much more highlight and emphasis being placed on Shockley’s design, this in turn caused uncertainty in the research camp and created an air of competition amongst fellow researchers. Bell Labs released the new device in June of 1948 and was given the name transistor after an office vote at the lab. The device got little attention initially, this saw Shockley leaving Bell Labs to found Shockley Semiconductor in which he hired a brilliant team to carry on work and studies in turn, finding Silicon Valley. During this time, Walter, Brattain and Shockley all got a shared award for the Nobel Prize in Physics. Shockley, during the reign of the company lost eight of his most brilliant researchers with the notion that he was delusional and his visions were blundered, these eight were now known as the traitorous eight. Sherman Fairchild, a New York industrialist had a keen interest on transistors and saw the potential in the group which lead him to investing a fairly large sum of money for the startup of a new semiconductor company, Fairchild Semiconductors. The opening of the company came at a great time as Russian astrologists had just launched a Satellite named Sputnik into orbit which triggered the launch of the space race and transistors were now in high demand. Some members of this group of eight moved on to other ventures, Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, founded Intel in 1968 the biggest chip maker, 1972 Eugene Kleiner founded a venture capitalist firm that has helped in seeding nowadays companies such as Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems. William Shockley’s company was eventually sold and he moved on to lecture where he would garner a bad reputation for topics raised on ethnicity and genealogy.
Most early transistor production was aimed at the military which lead to Japanese engineers making headway and forming a company named Sony that would mass produce transistors as local suppliers in the U.S could only readily supply the government. This opened up the information age where information could be quickly sent far and wide across the world by the use of transistorized radios with less risk of loss or corruption, a feat nearly impossible with vacuum tubes. Computers which once relied on large vacuum tubes were shrunk down to more than 400% of their original size and was subject to less failure. Telecommunications companies could now amplify small signals that could then be heard through a small speaker, also with the adaption of clear signal technology came better assignment to frequency bands, an initial giant leap in the development of mobile wireless communication. In the medical field saw the invention of hearing aids for those who had difficulty. Transistors were in turned placed every and anywhere they could be applied and would prove to be more efficient in use.
A transistor is a three terminal semi-conductor based device which allows current flow to be controlled between two electrical contact points by the input of a second current flow. This phenomenon involves applying electric current to one terminal (base), a second input of current is then passed through the second terminal (collector) which then is modified or switched by the initial current from the first terminal (base) and lastly the now modified current now flows through the last terminal (emitter). A transistor will fail to conduct if current isn’t applied to all ends, this feature is utilized in making switches and signal generators by applying current intermediately through one terminal allowing the flow of electrons through the others. They naturally function as electrical switches and can be daisy chained and organized to output varying frequencies which is key to its amplification features. One of the main ingredients of this electronic component is the use of a semi-conductor material placed joined to one terminal which contain many unique properties beneficial to the electronics industry. The conductivity of lies between that of good conductors like copper and those of good insulation such as rubber, semi-conductors also gain conductivity when heat is applied, while good conductors lose conductivity in the presence of heat and insulators gain no conductivity when heat is applied. Pure compositions of semiconductor based metals also gain conductivity in the presence of light also when a good conductor is contact with semi-conductors, conductivity is greater in one direction than the other. First set of transistors were mostly silicon based but was later changed to silicon compositions as the material was easier to acquire and required less processing. Transistors have since evolved with the addition of different types of transistors to fit a special need and also the creation of integrated circuits, which combines many tiny components in a small chip which added more functions to a single chip.
This genesis on the transistor which turned the world globally never fell short on local soil as its impact can be readily seen, with the startup of many radio stations broadcasting on the fm band enabling free flow of information across the masses via radio. With the price decline of electric switches and amplifiers came cheaper components paving the way for electrical enthusiasts who could now obtain components cheaper with the added benefit of less space and power consumption. With a high interest in electromagnetism and pulse width modulation (PWM), the transistor has proven to be a crucial component accompanying circuits to help generate delays and oscillation for motor control and electromagnetic resonance applications to the need of a hobbyist as myself.


(Fig. 1. Vacuum tubes on a “circuit block,” (Fig 2. Brattain and Bardeen’s first transistor,

Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson, (1998) Crystal Fire: The Invention of the transistor and Birth of the Information age, New York, W.W. Norton (p. 178)
Computer History, (2002)
AT&T Tech Archives, (1997) The genesis of the transistor,
San Jose University (2003) Thyer. W, The History of the transistor,

Birth and Evolution of Transistors

University College of the Caribbean
Jayden Benjamin…...

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