Last modified on 14 December 2014, at 20:44

William Shockley

William Shockley
William Shockley, Stanford University.jpg
Born William Bradford Shockley Jr.
(1910-02-13)February 13, 1910
London, England,
United Kingdom
Died August 12, 1989(1989-08-12) (aged 79)
Stanford, California,
United States
Nationality American
Institutions Bell Labs
Shockley Semiconductor
Stanford University
Alma mater MIT
Doctoral advisor John C. Slater
Known for Point-contact transistor and BJT
Shockley diode equation
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)
Comstock Prize in Physics (1953)
Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize (1953)
IEEE Medal of Honor (1980)

William Bradford Shockley Jr. (February 13, 1910 – August 12, 1989) was an American physicist and inventor. Shockley was the manager of a research group that included John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, the duo who invented the transistor. The three were jointly awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Shockley's efforts to commercialize a new transistor design in the 1950s and 1960s led to California's "Silicon Valley" becoming becoming known for electronics innovation. In his later life, Shockley was a professor at Stanford and became a staunch advocate of eugenics.[1][2]

Early life and educationEdit

Shockley was born in London, England to American parents, and raised in his family's hometown of Palo Alto, California, from age three.[3] His father, William Hillman Shockley, was a mining engineer who speculated in mines for a living, and spoke eight languages. His mother, Mary (née Bradford), grew up in the American West, graduated from Stanford University, and became the first female US Deputy mining surveyor.[4]

Shockley received his Bachelor of Science degree from Caltech in 1932 and received his Ph.D. degree from MIT in 1936. The title of his doctoral thesis was Electronic Bands in Sodium Chloride. His thesis topic was suggested by his thesis advisor, John C. Slater.[5]


After receiving his doctorate, Shockley joined a research group headed by Clinton Davisson at Bell Labs in New Jersey. The next few years were productive ones for Shockley. He published a number of fundamental papers on solid state physics in Physical Review. In 1938, he got his first patent, "Electron Discharge Device", on electron multipliers.[6]

When World War II broke out, Shockley became involved in radar research at the Bell labs in Manhattan, New York. In May 1942, he took leave from Bell Labs to become a research director at Columbia University's Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Group.[7] This included devising methods for countering the tactics of submarines with improved convoying techniques, optimizing depth charge patterns, and so on. This project required frequent trips to the Pentagon and Washington, where Shockley met many high-ranking officers and government officials. In 1944, he organized a training program for B-29 bomber pilots to use new radar bomb sights. In late 1944 he took a three-month tour to bases around the world to assess the results. For this project, Secretary of War Robert Patterson awarded Shockley the Medal for Merit on October 17, 1946.[8]

In July 1945, the War Department asked Shockley to prepare a report on the question of probable casualties from an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Shockley concluded:

If the study shows that the behavior of nations in all historical cases comparable to Japan's has in fact been invariably consistent with the behavior of the troops in battle, then it means that the Japanese dead and ineffectives at the time of the defeat will exceed the corresponding number for the Germans. In other words, we shall probably have to kill at least 5 to 10 million Japanese. This might cost us between 1.7 and 4 million casualties including 400,000 to 800,000 killed.[9]

This report influenced the decision for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender without an invasion.[10]


In 1945, Bell Labs formed a solid state physics group led by Shockley and chemist Stanley Morgan, which included John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, physicist Gerald Pearson, chemist Robert Gibney, electronics expert Hilbert Moore, and several technicians. Their assignment was to seek a solid-state alternative to fragile glass vacuum tube amplifiers. Its first attempts were based on Shockley's ideas about using an external electrical field on a semiconductor to affect its conductivity. These experiments failed every time in all sorts of configurations and materials. The group was at a standstill until Bardeen suggested a theory that invoked surface states that prevented the field from penetrating the semiconductor. The group changed its focus to study these surface states and they met almost daily to discuss the work. The rapport of the group was excellent, and ideas were freely exchanged.[11]

By the winter of 1946 they had enough results that Bardeen submitted a paper on the surface states to Physical Review. Brattain started experiments to study the surface states through observations made while shining a bright light on the semiconductor's surface. This led to several more papers (one of them co-authored with Shockley), which estimated the density of the surface states to be more than enough to account for their failed experiments. The pace of the work picked up significantly when they started to surround point contacts between the semiconductor and the conducting wires with electrolytes. Moore built a circuit that allowed them to easily vary the frequency of the input signal. Finally they began to collect some evidence of power amplification when Pearson, acting on a suggestion by Shockley, put a voltage on a droplet of glycol borate (a viscous chemical that did not evaporate, commonly used in electrolytic capacitors, and obtained by puncturing an example capacitor with a nail, using a hammer) placed across a P-N junction.[12]

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs, 1948.

Bell Labs' attorneys discovered that Shockley's field effect principle had been anticipated and devices based on it patented in 1930 by Julius Lilienfeld, who filed his MESFET-like patent in Canada on October 22, 1925.[13][14] Although the patent appeared "breakable" (it could not work) the patent attorneys based one of their four patent applications on the Bardeen-Brattain point contact design only. Three others (submitted first) covered the electrolyte-based transistors with Bardeen, Gibney and Brattain as the inventors. Shockley's name was not included in any of these patent applications. This angered Shockley, who thought his name should also be on the patents because the work was based on his field effect idea. He made the effort to have the patent written only in his name, and told Bardeen and Brattain of his intentions.[15]

Shockley was angered by this and continued his own work in secret to build a different sort of transistor based on junctions instead of point contacts; he expected this kind of design would be more commercially viable. He believed that the point contact transistor would prove to be fragile and difficult to manufacture. Shockley was also dissatisfied with certain parts of the explanation for how the point contact transistor worked and conceived of the possibility of minority carrier injection. On February 13, 1948, another team member, John N. Shive, built a point contact transistor with bronze contacts on the front and back of thin wedge of germanium, proving that holes could diffuse through bulk germanium and not just along the surface as previously thought.[16]:153[17]:145 Shive's invention sparked[18] Shockley's invention of the junction transistor.[16]:143 A few months later he invented an entirely new type of transistor with a layer or 'sandwich' structure. This structure went on to be used for the majority of all transistors into the 1960s, and evolved into the bipolar junction transistor. Shockley later admitted that the workings of the team were "mixture of cooperation and competition." He also admitted that he kept some of his own work secret until his "hand was forced" by Shive's 1948 advance.[19] Shockley worked out a rather complete description of what he called the "sandwich" transistor, and the first proof of principle was obtained on April 7, 1949.

Meanwhile, Shockley worked on his magnum opus, Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors which was published as a 558 page treatise in 1950. In it he worked out the critical ideas of drift and diffusion and the differential equations that govern the flow of electrons in solid state crystals. The Shockley's diode equation is also described. This seminal work became the reference material for numerous scientists working to develop and improve new variants of the transistor and other devices based on semiconductors.[20]

This resulted in his invention of the junction transistor, which was announced at a press conference on July 4, 1951.[21]

The ensuing publicity generated by the "invention of the transistor" often thrust Shockley to the fore, much to the chagrin of Bardeen and Brattain. Bell Labs management consistently presented all three inventors as a team. Though Shockley would correct the record where reporters gave him sole credit for the invention,[22] he eventually infuriated and alienated Bardeen and Brattain, and essentially blocked the two from working with him on the junction transistor. Bardeen began pursuing a theory for superconductivity and left Bell Labs in 1951. Brattain refused to work with Shockley further and was assigned to another group.[23]

Shockley SemiconductorEdit

In 1956 Shockley moved from New Jersey to Mountain View, California to start Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to live closer to his ailing mother in Palo Alto, California.[24][25] The company, a division of Beckman Instruments, Inc., was the first establishment working on silicon semiconductor devices in what came to be known as Silicon Valley.

"His way" could generally be summed up as domineering and increasingly paranoid. In one well-known incident, he claimed that a secretary's cut thumb was the result of a malicious act and he demanded lie detector tests to find the culprit.[26] After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1956, his demeanor changed as evidenced in his increasingly autocratic, erratic and hard-to-please management style.[27] In late 1957, eight of Shockley's researchers, who would come to be known as the "traitorous eight", resigned after Shockley decided not to continue research into silicon-based semiconductors.[28] They went on to form Fairchild Semiconductor, a loss from which Shockley Semiconductor never recovered. Over the course of 20 years, these eight of Shockley's former employees started 65 new enterprises.[29]


In 1951, Shockley was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He was forty-one years old; this was rather young for such an election. Two years later, he was chosen as the recipient of the prestigious Comstock Prize[30] for Physics by the NAS, and was the recipient of many other awards and honors.

Later yearsEdit

When Shockley was eased out of the directorship of Shockley Semiconductor, he joined Stanford University, where he was appointed the Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.[31]

Personal lifeEdit

While still a student at Caltech, Shockley married Iowan Jean Bailey in August 1933. In March 1934, the couple had a baby girl, Alison.

Shockley was popular as speaker, lecturer, and an amateur magician. He once magically produced a bouquet of roses at the end of his address before the American Physical Society. He was also famed in his early years for his elaborate practical jokes.[32] He became an accomplished rock climber, going often to the Shawangunks in the Hudson River Valley, where he pioneered a route across an overhang, known to this day as "Shockley's Ceiling."[12]

Shockley was first to propose a lognormal distribution to model the creation process for scientific research papers.[33] He was an atheist.[34]

Image and public statementsEdit

Late in his life, Shockley became intensely interested in questions of race, intelligence, and eugenics. He thought this work was important to the genetic future of the human species, and came to describe it as the most important work of his career, even though expressing such politically unpopular views risked damaging his reputation. When asked why he seemed to take positions associated with both the political right and left, Shockley explained that his goal was "the application of scientific ingenuity to the solution of human problems."[35]

Shockley argued that the higher rate of reproduction among the less intelligent was having a dysgenic effect, and that a drop in average intelligence would ultimately lead to a decline in civilization.[36] Shockley advocated that the scientific community should seriously investigate questions of heredity, intelligence, and demographic trends, and suggest policy changes if he was proven right.[37]

Although Shockley was concerned about dysgenic effects among both blacks and whites, he perceived the situation among blacks as more problematic. According to the 1970 US Census, unskilled and skilled whites had on average 3.7 and 2.3 children, respectively, whereas the corresponding numbers for blacks were 5.4 and 1.9.[38]

He donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank founded by Robert Klark Graham in hopes of spreading humanity's best genes. The bank, called by the media the "Nobel Prize sperm bank," claimed to have three Nobel Prize-winning donors, though Shockley was the only one to publicly acknowledge his donation to the sperm bank. However, Shockley's controversial views brought the Repository for Germinal Choice a degree of notoriety and may have discouraged other Nobel Prize winners from donating sperm.[39]

In 1981 he filed a libel suit against the Atlanta Constitution after a reporter called him a "Hitlerite" and compared his racial views to those of the Nazis. Shockley won the suit but received only $1 in damages.[40][41] Shockley's biographer sums this up as saying that the statement was defamatory, but Shockley's reputation was not worth much by the time the trial reached a verdict.[42]

In his later years Shockley took several precautions to improve his interactions with the media, to little avail. He taped his telephone conversations with reporters, and then sent the transcript to them by registered mail. At one point he toyed with the idea of making them take a simple quiz on his work before discussing the subject with them. His habit of saving all his papers, even laundry lists, provides abundant documentation for researchers on his life.[43]

Edgar G. Epps argued that "William Shockley's position lends itself to racist interpretations".[44] Anthropologist Roger Pearson[45] has defended Shockley, arguing that Shockley's views were misrepresented in the popular media by journalists who lacked a proper understanding of the topics Shockley wrote about, and that his views were in fact shared by many other scholars who were reluctant to publicly defend him due to fear of being attacked themselves.[46]

Death and legacyEdit

Shockley died in 1989 of prostate cancer.[1]

By the time of his death he was almost completely estranged from most of his friends and family, except his wife who died in 2007. His children are reported to have learned of his death only through the print media.[47]

A group of about 30 colleagues, who have met on and off since 1956, met at Stanford in 2002 to reminisce about their time with Shockley and his central role in sparking the information technology revolution, its organizer saying "Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley."[48]



Shockley was granted over ninety US patents. Some notable ones are:

  • US 2502488  Semiconductor Amplifier. Apr. 4, 1950; his first granted patent involving transistors.
  • US 2569347  Circuit element utilizing semiconductive material. Sept. 25, 1951; His earliest applied for (June 26, 1948) patent involving transistors.
  • US 2655609  Bistable Circuits. Oct. 13, 1953; Used in computers.
  • US 2787564  Forming Semiconductive Devices by Ionic Bombardment. Apr. 2, 1957; The diffusion process for implantation of impurities.
  • US 3031275  Process for Growing Single Crystals. Apr. 24, 1962; Improvements on process for production of basic materials.
  • US 3053635  Method of Growing Silicon Carbide Crystals. Sept. 11, 1962; Exploring other semiconductors.


Prewar scientific articles by Shockley
  • An Electron Microscope for Filaments: Emission and Adsorption by Tungsten Single Crystals, R. P. Johnson and W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 49, 436 - 440 (1936) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.49.436
  • Optical Absorption by the Alkali Halides, J. C. Slater and W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 50, 705 - 719 (1936) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.50.705
  • Electronic Energy Bands in Sodium Chloride, William Shockley, Phys. Rev. 50, 754 - 759 (1936) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.50.754
  • The Empty Lattice Test of the Cellular Method in Solids, W. Shockley, Phys. Rev. 52, 866 - 872 (1937) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.52.866
  • On the Surface States Associated with a Periodic Potential, William Shockley, Phys. Rev. 56, 317 - 323 (1939) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.56.317
  • The Self-Diffusion of Copper, J. Steigman, W. Shockley and F. C. Nix, Phys. Rev. 56, 13 - 21 (1939) doi:10.1103/PhysRev.56.13
Books by Shockley
  • Shockley, William – Electrons and holes in semiconductors, with applications to transistor electronics, Krieger (1956) ISBN 0-88275-382-7.
  • Shockley, William and Gong, Walter A – Mechanics Charles E. Merrill, Inc. (1966).
  • Shockley, William and Pearson, Roger – Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems Scott-Townsend (1992) ISBN 1-878465-03-1.
Books about Shockley


  1. ^ a b "William B. Shockley, 79, Creator of Transistor and Theory on Race". New York Times. 14 August 1989. Retrieved 2007-07-21. He drew further scorn when he proposed financial rewards for the genetically disadvantaged if they volunteered for sterilization. 
  2. ^ Sparks, Morgan; Hogan, Lester; Linville, John (June 1991). "Obituary: William Shockley". Physics Today 44 (6): 130–132. doi:10.1063/1.2810155. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Broken Genius, p 4
  5. ^ Broken Genius, p 38
  6. ^ Broken Genius, p 48
  7. ^ Broken Genius p. 65–67
  8. ^ Broken Genius, p 85
  9. ^ Giangreco, D. M. (1997). "Casualty Projections For the U.S. Invasions Of Japan, 1945–1946". Journal of Military History 61 (3): 568. doi:10.2307/2954035. 
  10. ^ Newman, Robert P. (1998). "Hiroshima and the Trashing of Henry Stimson". The New England Quarterly 71 (1): 27. doi:10.2307/366722. 
  11. ^ Brattain quoted in Crystal Fire p. 127
  12. ^ a b Crystal Fire p.132
  13. ^ US 1745175  "Method and apparatus for controlling electric current" first filing in Canada on 22.10.1925
  14. ^ Lilienfeld[dead link]Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "William Shockley". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  16. ^ a b Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson. Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age. ISBN 978-0-393-31851-7. 
  17. ^ Hoddeson, Lillian; Daitch, Vicki (2002). True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen : the Only Winner of Two Nobel Prizes in Physics. Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 0-309-08408-3. Retrieved April 30, 2012. 
  18. ^ Brittain, James E. (1984). "Becker and Shive on the transistor". Proceedings of the IEEE 72 (12): 1695. doi:10.1109/PROC.1984.13075. an observation that William Shockley interpreted as confirmation of his concpet of that junction transistor 
  19. ^ "Inventors of the transistor followed diverse paths after 1947 discovery". Associated press - Bangor Daily news. December 25, 1987. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 'mixture of cooperation and competition' and 'Shockley, eager to make his own contribution, said he kept some of his own work secret until "my hand was forced" in early 1948 by an advance reported by John Shive, another Bell Laboratories researcher' 
  20. ^ Broken Genius, p 121-122
  21. ^ "1951 - First Grown-Junction Transistors Fabricated". Computer History Museum. 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ Crystal Fire p. 278
  24. ^ "Holding On". New York Times. April 6, 2008. Retrieved 2014-12-07. In 1955, the physicist William Shockley set up a semiconductor laboratory in Mountain View, partly to be near his mother in Palo Alto. ... 
  25. ^ "Two Views of Innovation, Colliding in Washington". New York Times. January 13, 2008. Retrieved 2014-12-07. The co-inventor of the transistor and the founder of the valley's first chip company, William Shockley, moved to Palo Alto, Calif., because his mother lived there. ... 
  26. ^ Crystal Fire p. 247
  27. ^ PBS program - American Experience (2012) 'Silicon Valley'
  28. ^ 10 Days That Changed History, By ADAM GOODHEART, Published: July 2, 2006 -
  29. ^ A Legal Bridge Spanning 100 Years: From the Gold Mines of El Dorado to the "Golden" Startups of Silicon Valley by Gregory Gromov
  30. ^ Comstock Prize
  31. ^ Crystal Fire p.277
  32. ^ Crystal Fire p. 45
  33. ^ The Artful Universe by John D. Barrow, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, p. 239
  34. ^ Crystal Fire p. 133
  35. ^ Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 48
  36. ^ Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 197
  37. ^ Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 213
  38. ^ Shockley on Eugenics and Race p. 278
  39. ^ Polly Morrice (2005-07-03). "The Genius Factory: Test-Tube Superbabies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  40. ^ Kessler, Ronald. "Absent at the Creation; How one scientist made off with the biggest invention since the light bulb". 
  41. ^ He was represented by Murray M. Silver, Esq., Attorney at Law, Atlanta, Georgia. See Time Magazine, September 24, 1984, Page 62.
  42. ^ Shurkin, Joel (2006). Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age. London: Macmillan. pp. 259–260. ISBN 978-1-4039-8815-7. Lay summary (14 August 2010). 
  43. ^ Shurkin, Joel (2006). Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age. London: Macmillan. p. 286 (quoting August 1980 issue of Playboy). ISBN 978-1-4039-8815-7. Lay summary (14 August 2010). 
  44. ^ Epps, Edgar G (Jan–February 1973). "Racism, Science, and the I.Q.". Integrated Education 11 (1): 35–44. doi:10.1080/0020486730110105. 
  45. ^ Tucker, William H. (2007). The funding of scientific racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07463-9. Lay summary (4 September 2010). 
  46. ^ Pearson, Roger (1992). Shockley on Eugenics and Race, pg. 15–49. Scott-Townsend Publishers. ISBN 1-878465-03-1
  47. ^ Bill Shockley, Part 3 of 3
  48. ^ William Shockley: Still controversial, after all these years: 10/02
  49. ^ Shurkin p46
  50. ^ "Comstock Prize in Physics". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 

External linksEdit