SSCS June Technical Webinar: From Rocks to Chips: What the History of the Transistor Says about the Future

27 June @ 1:00 pm2:30 pm EDT
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Abstract: The discovery, then invention, of the transistor sits almost exactly midway between Ferdinand Braun’s discovery of solid-state rectification in 1874 and the modern era of gigascale ICs. As with other epoch-shattering inventions, the story of the transistor isn’t quite as neatly linear as some recountings might suggest. Very few EEs have ever heard of Mervin Kelly, although we all owe our jobs to him. This talk will try to right that wrong, as well as answer questions such as, “What really led Bob Noyce to create the planar integrated circuit?” Retracing some of the steps of the pioneers generates important insights into the nature of innovation, and teaches us valuable lessons about the critical role of a very few visionaries and how “the will to think” can allow luck to prevail. As the 75th (+ epsilon) anniversary of the transistor dovetails with the end of lithographic scaling, we find ourselves on the threshold of a major technological discontinuity. Studying the story of previous ones just might provide us with our best guide to the next.

Biography: Thomas Lee received his degrees from MIT, where his 1989 thesis described the first CMOS radio. He established the Stanford Microwave Integrated Circuits Laboratory in 1994, after having worked at Analog Devices, Rambus and other companies. He’s designed PLLs for several microprocessors, and founded Matrix Semiconductor, among others. He is a Ho-Am (Samsung) Prize laureate, an IEEE and Packard Fellow, has won CICC and ISSCC “Best Paper” awards, an Honoris Causa doctorate from U. of Waterloo (2013), the 2021 Gustav Kirchhoff IEEE Field award, and a U.S. Secretary of Defense Medal (2012) for his work as Director of DARPA’s MTO. He was a Director at Xilinx up to its acquisition by AMD in 2022. He owns thousands of vacuum tubes, hundreds of oscilloscopes, and many kilograms of obsolete semiconductors. No one, including himself, quite knows why.

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27 June
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm EDT
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Aeisha VanBuskirk