Development of the "Chip" at Fairchild

Development of the "Chip" at Fairchild

Soon after, in the late 1950s, the world of electronics was revolutionized by the development of the microchip, which has today become the "basic building block of computers since the 1960s.")

While director of R&D at Fairchild, Noyce pursued the idea of integrating a number of transistors and the other required elements for electronic circuits (capacitors, resistors, wiring, etc.) on a single chip of silicon, as all these elements could be mad e of the same material (silicon). The final products were the integrated circuits, or ICs. And since "physically they were only tiny chips of silicon", more commonly, "they also came to be called chips.")

The crucial problem, however, was how to connect the transistors on this chip of silicon. It was Jean Hoerni, then Noyce's colleague at Fairchild, and today regarded as "one of the brightest scientists and most mercurial characters the Silicon Valley has e ver seen,") that found the solution to it in 1958. He developed the "Planar process", which became the only practical way to build reliable silicon-based ICs. This technique made it possible to place complex electronic circuits on a single chip.

Independently, Jack Kilby, an engineer at Texas Instruments (TI), Dallas, had developed the same concept of integrating several transistors on a single chip a few months before. However, he could not solve the problem of interconnections in a practical way , so at first Bob Noyce received the patent as the inventor of first IC. This launched a longstanding lawsuit of TI against Noyce and Fairchild, and finally Noyce and Kilby were conceded the title of co-inventors of the IC.

Semiconductor technology is the "quintessential technique for building electronic devices" today, for it "offers some distinct advantages to the user:") The semiconductor IC is solid state (without any moving parts) and is "fundamental in its simplicity." Moreover, silicon, from which ICs are made, is the "third most common element on the planet" (after oxigen and carbon). Since the activities of ICs take place at the atomic level, these devices are incredibly durable: Semiconductor chips can "operate unde r extreme environmental stress," such as heat, cold or pressure - they are almost "immortal", representing the most durable "machines" man has ever devised.) Beside the durability factor, the probably most important feature of solid state electronics is t hat the chips can be made very small due to their simplicity.

Thus, the invention of the integrated circuit brought along a tremendous miniaturization in the field of electronics and led to a large decline in the cost for computers, while their capacity to perform ever greater and more complex transactions increased rapidly. Whereas Bob Noyce's first IC incorporated only a few transistors, today's chips contain millions of them.

The pioneering invention of the integrated circuit by Bob Noyce meant the breakthrough for Fairchild Semiconductor and launched the electronics revolution.

Besides Fairchild, a lot of other companies entered the semiconductor market in the 1960s and manufactured ICs; and with some large exceptions - like the big electronics companies TI (Dallas) and Motorola (Phoenix) - most of them were located in Silicon Va lley.

Fairchild Semiconductor was successful and expanded rapidly. But now Sherman Fairchild "seemed to be stealing profits") out of the semiconductor company to support his company Fairchild Camera and Instrument on the East Coast. This happened after he had p urchased the Silicon Valley company for $3 million - an option he had been granted for providing the financial backing for the "Shockley Eight" in 1957. S.Fairchild's measures implied an "unacceptable burden" for the semiconductor company, and so Bob Noyce "found himself without any incentive to keep talented people from running off and trying to make their own fortunes"), since relationships to the Fairchild management on the East Coast deteriorated.

Many "Fairchildren" left the parent company to start up their own ventures and to build up a "Valley," the industry of which was based on Silicon.

The first of the original Eight to go were Hoerni, Roberts and Kleiner to found Amelco. Hoerni left this semiconductor company just two years later - as would be his habit - to found Union Carbide Electronics (1964) and Intersil (1967). Thus, he created at least a dozen new companies and became "the most prolific (if not the most successful) entrepreneur the industry has seen.")

In the same way many other brilliant scientists left Fairchild, the last ones of the original Eight being Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore to start up Intel in 1968.

Martin Groeger
Last modified: Mon Jul 8 05:20:10 PDT