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the radio amateur who miniaturized the 20th century

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the radio amateur who miniaturized the 20th century

W9GTY(SK) is an acronym, and this acronym is about our history. Its meaning, most likely, is unknown to you but we will be able to find out shortly. This breaking latest news begins in Kansas, an area where a very young Jack Kilby, the actor of our article, takes his first steps into the world of work. More precisely in his father’s company. A local company whose mission was: maintenance services for other companies. Engaged in carrying out ordinary maintenance operations in a local industrial complex, he was surprised, together with his father, by a storm.

Jack Kilby and the first integrated circuit

Bad weather created damage to the telephone network making it unusable so they had to use amateur radio to keep in touch with their office. This was the circumstance that brought a very young Jack Kilby closer to what will be his two main passions: radio and electronics. Later he studied for his amateur radio license and the Call Sign (identification code) assigned to him was precisely W9GTY.

Jack Kilby and the university

Kilby enrolled at the University of Illinois ma he had to interrupt his studies due to the Second World War. He enlisted and under the United States Navy was stationed in India and assigned to the “Transmissions” department with the task of maintenance officer of radio receivers and transmitters.

Jack Kilby’s first work

After the war, his first real job was at Centralab, a small electronics company located in Milwaukee, where Jack made some inventions. The more time went by, the more the awareness matured in him that in order to be at the forefront and to emerge in the world of electronics, that is, in the development and improvement of new electronic components, such as the Transistor which had recently been invented, he should have worked in a bigger company.

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It is said that fortune favors the bold, in our case the first break in Jack Kilby’s career came from Adcock Willis. Adcock was considered a silicon pioneer, and had offered him a job at a cutting-edge research group on semiconductor studiesin a major electronics company.

immagine royalty free Jack Kilby

Jack Kilby at the age of thirty-four moved to Dallas with his wife Barbara and his two daughters to start working at Texas Instruments. With Kilby at TI a revolutionary idea was making its way, an idea that would be written in every textbook and that would take him from the top administrative levels of theella Texas Instruments until the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000.

Texas Instruments

Dallas 1958, a young researcher arrives at Texas Instruments engaged together with other engineers in finding innovative solutions. As a newcomer, Kilby was not entitled to leave. And so in the month of July he finds himself working alone and with the company electronics laboratory at his disposal.

immaginbe royalty free Jack Kilby

After Transistors

One of the problems that researchers found themselves facing in the period following the invention of the transistor was the problem of interconnections. An electrical circuit is an uninterrupted path through various components and the most sophisticated ones are large and complicated, they can contain hundreds or thousands of both active and passive components. Components such as: resistors, diodes, capacitors, transistors, in one circuit can be connected to other potentiometers, zeners, capacitors and so on.

Each component can have multiple interconnections with other parts of the circuit. Connecting these parts together was a job that was done almost entirely by hand, and was an expensive and expensive process. Paradoxically, the design and drawing of large and complex circuits became difficult, tiring to achieve. And so that Kilby during the lonely and sultry days of July begins to think of an alternative way to use semiconductors and this leads him to his idea of ​​”monolithic circuit”.

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Idea and development

Kilby wondered if it was possible to fit or make all the necessary components out of a single piece of semiconductor. Meticulously noting his progress and experiments in the lab journal. When he returned from vacation, his boss, Willis Adcock, proved skeptical about these researches, but despite his skepticism he invited them to continue and to make a practical demonstration of it. Kilby so in September 1958 completed a first rudimentary prototype. An entire circuit, hand-assembled on a germanium substrate with a web of precious metal wires that connected the components contained in the chip together.

Created the first integrated circuit, or microchip, in history with the use of a single crystal a single slice of semiconductor from which various elements were obtained such as: resistors, capacitors. In the first months of 1959, Texas Instruments filed the patent application, presenting its new invention to the world. The solid state circuit. Thus began the era of miniaturization

P.S. SK is an expression in amateur radio jargon and stands for silent key has the meaning of “silent key”. It indicates a radio amateur who is no longer active, unfortunately forever.

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1 comment

Harry Rees March 6, 2023 - 12:20 am

I enjoyed your article on Jack Kilby, but I wished you would have mentioned Robert Noyce of Fairchild Electronics. Noyce developed the first practical integrated circuit on a slice of silicon using photolithography. This technique is still used today to manufacture ICs. Kilby’s technique was too difficult to mass produce but he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work. A very interesting story especially when he was alone at Texas Instruments during their two-week shutdown.


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