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Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory

The original Shockley building at 391 San Antonio Road, Mountain View, California, was a produce market in 2006 and has since been demolished.

Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, a division of Beckman Instruments, Inc., became in 1956 the first establishment, in what came to be known as Silicon Valley, to work on silicon semiconductor devices.

In 1957, the division's eight leading scientists resigned and became the core of a new venture of an existing technology company. The Beckman division never recovered from that loss of personnel, and was purchased by Clevite in 1960, then sold to ITT in 1968, and shortly after, officially closed.


  • Shockley's return to California 1
  • Shockley diodes 2
  • Traitorous eight 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Shockley's return to California

William Shockley had studied his undergraduate degree at Caltech and moved east to complete his PhD at MIT. He graduated in 1936 and immediately started work at Bell Labs. Through the 1930s and '40s he worked on electron devices, and increasingly with semiconductor materials. This led to the 1947 creation of the first transistor, in partnership with John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and others. Through the early 1950s a series of events led to Shockley becoming increasingly upset with Bell's management, and especially what he saw as a slighting when Bell promoted Bardeen and Brattain's names ahead of his own on the transistor's patent. However, others that worked with him suggested the reason for these issues was Shockley's abrasive management style, and it was this reason that he was constantly passed over for promotion within the company. These issues came to a head in 1953 and he took a sabbatical and returned to Caltech as a visiting professor.

Here Shockley struck up a friendship with Arnold Orville Beckman, who had invented the pH meter in 1934. By this time Shockley had become convinced that the natural capabilities of silicon meant it would eventually replace germanium as the primary material for transistor construction. Texas Instruments had recently started production of silicon transistors (in 1954), and Shockley thought he could do one better. Beckman agreed to back Shockley's efforts in this area, under the umbrella of his company, Beckman Instruments. However, Shockley's mother was aging and often ill, and he decided to live closer to her house in Palo Alto.[1][2]

The Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory opened for business in a small commercial lot in nearby Mountain View in 1956. Initially he tried to hire some of his former workers from Bell Labs, but none of them wanted to leave the east coast, then the center of most high-tech research. Instead, he assembled a team of young scientists and engineers and set about designing a new type of crystal-growth system that could produce single-crystal silicon boules, at that time a difficult prospect given silicon's high melting point.

Shockley diodes

While work on the transistors continued, Shockley hit upon the idea of using a four-layer device (transistors are three) that would have the novel quality of locking into the "on" or "off" state with no further control inputs. Similar circuits required several transistors, typically three, so for large switching networks the new diodes would greatly reduce complexity.[3][4] The four-layer diode is now called the Shockley diode.

Shockley became convinced that the new device would be just as important as the transistor, and kept the entire project secret, even within the company. This led to increasingly paranoid behavior; in one famed incident he was convinced that a secretary's cut finger was a plot to injure him and ordered lie detector tests on everyone in the company. This was combined with Shockley's vacillating management of the projects; sometimes he felt that getting the basic transistors into immediate production was paramount, and would de-emphasize the Shockley diode project in order to make the "perfect" production system. This upset many of the employees, and mini-rebellions became commonplace.[5]

Traitorous eight

Eventually a group of the youngest employees went over Shockley's head to Arnold Beckman, demanding that Shockley be replaced. Beckman initially appeared to agree with their demands, but over time made a series of decisions that supported Shockley. Fed up, the group broke ranks and sought support from Sherman Fairchild's Fairchild Camera and Instrument, an Eastern U.S. company with considerable military contracts. In 1957, Fairchild Semiconductor was started with plans for making silicon transistors. Shockley told the young scientists -- Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts -- that were leaving that they were the "traitorous eight" and they would never be successful.[6][7]

The eight later left Fairchild and started companies of their own, among them Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and others. Over a period of 20 years, 65 different companies were started by 1st or 2nd generation teams that traced their origins in the valley to Shockley Semiconductor.[8]

Shockley never managed to make the four-layer diode a commercial success, in spite of eventually working out the technical details and entering production in the 1960s. The introduction of integrated circuits allowed the multiple transistors needed to produce a switch to be placed on a single "chip", thereby nullifying the parts-count advantage of Shockley's design. However, the company did have a number of other successful projects, including the first strong theoretical study of solar cells, developing the seminal Shockley-Queisser limit that places an upper limit of 30% efficiency on basic silicon solar cells.

See also

  • Thyristor – a concept first proposed by William Shockley


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Kurt Hubner, "The Four-Layer Diode in the Cradle of Silicon Valley", Electrochemical Society Proceedings, Volume 98-1
  4. ^ "Historic Transistor Photo Gallery Photo Essay – Shockley 4 Layer Diodes"
  5. ^ [1], 3 March 1995
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ A Legal Bridge Spanning 100 Years: From the Gold Mines of El Dorado to the "Golden" Startups of Silicon Valley by Gregory Gromov

External links

  • Interview with Adolf Goetzberger a Shockley alumnus hired after mass resignations from Shockley Semiconductor.

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