• Feb 25, 1909
    (b.) -
    Sep 9, 2002
    (d.)

Bio/Description

A British electronics engineer and consultant who is credited as being the first person to conceptualize and build a prototype of the integrated circuit, commonly called the microchip, in the late-1940s and early 1950s. He passed the first radar trainers and became a pioneer of reliability engineering at the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Malvern in the 1940s. Born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, and educated at Sale High School and Manchester College of Technology. starting in the early 1930s. His first job was with Mullard Radio Valve Company in 1931 examining defective valves returned by customers to establish the cause of failure, the company’s aim being to attribute the cause to rough handling to avoid having to supply free replacements. Technicians were expected to process up to 1000 valves per day. By the early 1940s he was working at the Telecommunications Research Establishment (T.R.E.) in Malvern; later to become the Royal Radar Establishment (R.R.E.), Malvern and the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment. The group was responsible for the first plan position indicator (PPI) ever built, and they were granted two patents for their work. The pace of development increased dramatically during the early war years for the personnel of R.R.E., Malvern, and a close working relationship was established with the Royal Air Force. In 1942 he started a Synthetic Trainer Design Group, and was responsible for the design, manufacture, installation and servicing of over 70 types of radar training equipment for service use during the war. In 1943 he visited the USA and Canada to advise trainers and to help set up similar training devices in the USA. In 1944 he had been made Divisional Leader of the Physical & Tropical Testing Laboratories and the Component Group, which placed contracts with industry for new components and materials. His interest in components grew out of his experience with radar. “They were the bricks and mortar, and many of them were not as reliable as they should have been”, he said. Out of his drive for reliability came the search for new techniques and methods of construction. Together with Dr. A. C. Vivian, he made the first plastic potted circuit in January 1947 to protect components from shock and moisture. Printed wiring methods and etching techniques were explored, and their use encouraged in radar equipment. His work with colleagues at TRE led him to the belief that it would be possible to fabricate multiple circuit elements on and into a substance like silicon. In May 1952 he read a paper at the US Electronic Components Symposium. At the end of the paper he made the statement: “With the advent of the transistor and the work on semi-conductors generally, it now seems possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electronic functions being connected directly by cutting out areas of the various layers”. This is now generally accepted as the first public description of an integrated circuit. At a later date he said, “It seemed so logical to me; we had been working on smaller and smaller components, improving reliability as well as size reduction. I thought the only way we could ever attain our aim was in the form of a solid block. You then do away with all your contact problems, and you have a small circuit with high reliability. And that is why I went on with it. I shook the industry to the bone. I was trying to make them realize how important its invention would be for the future of microelectronics and the national economy.” This was some six years before Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments was awarded a patent for essentially the same idea. As a result he has been called "The Prophet of the Integrated Circuit". His ability to turn his idea of an integrated circuit into practical reality was restricted by his lack of responsibility for active devices and the lack of suitable manufacturing techniques. He got over his lack of suitable authority to commission development work by placing a small contract with Plessey under the auspices of his Constructional Techniques Group. The result was shown at The International Components Symposium he initiated at R.R.E. Malvern in September 1957, where he presented a model to illustrate the possibilities of solid-circuit techniques. The model represented a flip-flop in the form of a solid block of semi-conductor material suitably doped and shaped to form four transistors. Four resistors were represented by silicon bridges, and other resistors and capacitors were deposited in film form directly onto the silicon block with intervening insulating films. He made no claim to be the inventor of microelectronics, a role he assigned to Robert Noyce and Jean Hoerni, whose planar process turned the relatively crude ideas of Kilby into a reliable manufacturing product, which is what he had been waiting for. He began a campaign to encourage substantial UK investment in IC development, but was met largely with apathy. The UK military failed to perceive any operational requirements for ICs, and UK companies were unwilling to invest their own money. He later said: “I have attributed it to war-weariness in one of my books, but that is perhaps an excuse. The plain fact is that nobody would take the risk. The Ministry wouldn’t place a contract because they hadn’t an application. The applications people wouldn’t say we want it because they had no experience with it. It was a chicken-and-egg situation. The Americans took financial gambles, whereas this was very slow in this country”. It was years before the UK had a significant semi-conductor industry. His knowledge and experience of components, their design, construction, application, and reliability had become widely recognized. He liaised with numerous international organisations and authorities. He served on many committees worldwide, both as member and chairman. He appeared on the popular B.B.C. Television program, “Tomorrow’s World”, extolling the virtues of integrated circuits. In 1964 he sponsored a symposium on Electronic Beam Techniques for Microelectronics at R.R.E. He produced numerous books on electronic equipment, inventions and discoveries, components and reliability, for several publishing houses, including McGraw-Hill, Pitman and notably, Pergamon Press, whose Electronic Data Series ran to 39 volumes. His retirement as Superintendent of Applied Physics in 1966 allowed him to take up the role of a consultant, as well as continuing to add to his numerous published works. He was Editor-in-Chief of Pergamon’s International Journal “Microelectronics and Reliability”, which he had originally founded, and Editorial Adviser to Electronic Components (United Trade Press). Among his awards are: M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for work on radar synthetic trainers, 1945; American Medal of Freedom (with Bronze Palm) for work on radar synthetic trainers; Wakefield Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society for his contribution to air safety through microelectronic reliability (1964); Honorary Citizen of the State of Colorado for his participation by transatlantic telephone in the Electronic Circuit Packaging Symposium at the University of Colorado (1964); The IEEE Cledo Brunetti Award for his work on microelectronic components; and the USA Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm.
  • Date of Birth:

    Feb 25, 1909
  • Date of Death:

    Sep 9, 2002
  • Noted For:

    Conceptualize and built a prototype of the integrated circuit, commonly called the microchip, in the late-1940s and early 1950s
  • Category of Achievement:

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