By Bao-Tich Nguyen

Shockley (seated) and his colleagues demonstrate the transistor at Bell Laboratories

William Shockley was born on February 13, 1910 in London, England. He was the son of William Hillman Shockley, a mining engineer, and Mary, a deputy mineral surveyor. In 1913, Shockley and his family moved to the United States where he later received his B.S. degree at the California Institute of Technology in 1932. Soon afterwards, Shockley got his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936. By this time, he had submitted a "thesis on the energy band structure of sodium chloride". In this same year, he also began working for a telephone company called Bell Telephone Laboratories . Shockley worked here for about nineteen years before resigning to become the director of the Shockley Semi-conductor Laboratory of Beckman Instruments, Inc., in California (named after William Shockley). As the director, Shockley undertook research development of the transistor. The American physicist and Nobel Prize winner played a large role in the production of the transistor in 1947. By now, Shockley had hired a young group of scientists to enhance the new technological invention. This influential development would change the future of computers and other electronics in an unforgettable way.

William Shockley, Stanford University

William Shockley at Stanford University

While capitalizing on his new invention, Shockley was a catalyst in the industrial development of the region below the San Francisco Peninsula. Shockley was actually the individual who brought the silicon to Silicon Valley. Until this time, most of the transistors had utilized germanium because it was less difficult to prepare in pure form. Silicon offered certain advantages such as the fact that devices made from this material could operate at high temperatures (germanium-made transistors couldn't do this). Moreover, silicon is a relatively common element whereas germanium is somewhat rare. As a result, Shockley and his team of young scientists successfully developed commercialized silicon transistors which became increasingly popular in the following years. Later in 1963, Shockley left the electronics industry and became a professor of engineering science at Stanford University, California. At Stanford, Shockley formulated his theory of what he called dysgenics. Unfortunately in 1989, Shockley died of prostrate cancer.



William Shockley's influential contributions to science and technology will always be present and will most likely be used to assist or inspire future technological developments and inventions. As we all know, transistors are essential tools that we consciously or unconsciously use every day in our lives. Most commonly, transistors serve as a device to turn all components on or off. They are used to turn on transmitter circuits (found in radios) as well as light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Furthermore, transistors are used in a wide range of electronic devices including cell phones, guitar amplifiers, TVs, and virtually any other device that can amplify sound waves. Thanks to the amazing invention of the transistor, we can surf the web with a super-thin laptop instead of a bulky, box-like computer!

Other historical figures to explore:

Guglielmo Marconi

Nolan Bushnell

Tommy Flowers

Works Cited

Bellis, Mary. "William Shockley." 2011. Web. 19 Sep. 2011. <>.

Moore, Gordon. "Solid-State Physicist WILLIAM SHOCKLEY." TIME Magazine. 29 Mar. 1999. Web. 19 Sep. 2011. <,9171,990623-1,00.html>.

"William Shockley - Biography." Web. 19 Sep. 2011. <>.