The World Mourns The
Passing Of A Great Physicist
Unfortunately, time removes all great inventors from the world. I
was one of those fortunate to have shared some time with John Bardeen during
the last months of his life, a memory that I will prize for the rest of
During our collaboration, John and I edited an article containing
his memoirs of his early days at Bell Laboratories regarding the development
of the Transistor. John Bardeen was the co-inventor of the transistor along
with William Shockley and Walter Brattain.
Frequent letters and phone calls were exchanged to accomplish our
effort, and John had hoped to make a trip to Phoenix to view The Southwest
Museum of Electricity and Communications, a museum dealing with electricity
and electronics communication that is sponsored by The Computer Exchange.
This article covering the development of the Transistor was published
in VINTAGE ELECTRICS, the yearly publication of the museum. The entire
82 page publication dealt with sold state technology development in the
early days of it's beginning.
In one conversation, John told me that he would be submitting his
manuscript in type written form. I asked if there was a chance that he
could send it to me on disk, but he replied that his grandchildren used
a word processor on a computer but that he did not... At that point I reminded
him, that without his efforts developing the transistor we would not have
small computers, he merely chuckled in a soft voice... I could indeed envision
a smile of satisfaction on his face as that soft chuckle passed on the
wires of the telephone line!
John Bardeen was regarded by the people at Bell Laboratories as the
most brilliant of the development group that worked on the invention of
the transistor. I found, through interviewing co-workers, that he was soft
spoken and well liked by his
John Bardeen, standing at left; Walter Brattain to the right; and William
Shockley seated at the microscope.
This photo was on the cover of the Bell
San Jose Mercury News 1/31/91
San Jose Mercury News 1/31/91
John Bardeen in his later years next to a prototype of the transistor
John Bardeen, Transistor Pioneer Dies at 82 (Added since release of V.E.
on Dec. 1990)
John Bardeen, co-inventor of the transistor at made possible virtually every
modern electronic device, died Jan. 30, 1991 of a heart attack.
Mr. Bardeen, 82, a two-time Noel Prize winner, died in Boston here
he was consulting specialists about health problems, the university of
A professor emeritus and faculty member at the university since 1951,
Mr. Bardeen won the Nobel prize in physics in 1956 as co-inventor of the
He won a second Nobel in 1972 for co-development of the theory of
superconductivity at low temperatures.
Mr. Bardeen was the last surviving member of the three-member Bell
Telephone Laboratories team that developed the transistor in 1947. Walter
Brattain died in 1987 and William Shockley died in 1989.
"A giant has passed from our midst," University of Illinois
Chancellor Morton Weir said. "It is a rare person whose work changes
the life of every American. John's did."
The transistor replaced vacuum tubes in radios, television sets and
other consumer products, as well as in computers and communication devices.
Mr. Bardeen later told a reporter, "I knew the transistor was
important, but I never foresaw the revolution in electronics it would bring."
His work on the theory of low temperature superconductivity, in which
electricity travels with little or no resistance, helped researchers develop
such practical uses as magnetic imaging techniques for medical diagnosis.
Associates said Mr. Bardeen considered the superconductivity theory
his greatest scientific achievement, although he doubted it would have
the economic effect of the transistor.
After teaching at the University of Minnesota and doing research
at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, Mr. Bardeen joined the
newly formed research group in solid-state physics at Bell Telephone Laboratories
in Murray Hill, NJ.
Edward Sharpe: CEO of Computer Exchange and curator of SMEC.