Nobel Prize Bestowed on Integrated Circuit Inventor

Jack Kilby, an inventor at Texas Instruments Inc. who developed the first integrated circuit in 1958, was jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics along with two other scientists who also were cited for work that “laid the foundations of modern information technology.”

Sharing the award with Kilby are Herbert Kroemer, a physics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Zhores I. Alferov, who is the director of a research institute in Russia. Kilby was given half the US$915,300 prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, while Kroemer and Alferov will share the other half for their separate development of semiconductor technology used in transistors.

In a detailed explanation of the physics award, the Royal Swedish Academy noted that 77-year-old Kilby and the late Robert Noyce of Intel Corp. are both considered the inventors of the modern integrated circuit. Kilby created the first device, while Noyce developed a chip as it would later be manufactured, using materials such as silicon and silicon dioxide, the academy said.

However, Kilby “was first with his patent application, and Noyce knew of this work when he filed his own application” related to the technology, the Swedish academy added. In addition, Noyce wasn’t eligible to share in the Nobel award because of his death in 1990, although the academy lauded him as “one of the most important founders of Silicon Valley.”

Kroemer, 72, was cited for developing semiconductor heterostructures consisting of layers of gallium arsenide or aluminum gallium arsenide while working at Radio Corporation of America and Varian Associates Inc. during the 1950s and early 1960s. Alferov, now 70, did similar, though separate, work in Russia during the 1960s.

According to the Royal Swedish Academy, Kroemer’s work in particular showed that transistors based on the heterostructure technology could be superior to conventional ones, especially for amplifying currents and for high-frequency applications. Devices and semiconductor lasers based on heterostructures are used in satellite communications and in products such as optical data storage systems, mobile phones, CD players, bar code readers and automobile brake lights.

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