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June 24, 2014

Integrated Circuit Built by Jack Kilby Goes up For Auction

In 1958, Jack Kilby, an engineer with Texas Instruments showed his co-workers a new integrated circuit (IC) that only had a transistor and a few other components on a germanium piece. This device laid the foundation for the microchip industry as we know it today, and Kilby was rightly awarded the Nobel (News - Alert) Prize in Physics for this invention.

This invention by Kilby came as an answer to a question that was plaguing the computer industry. Since the beginning of the 20th century, vacuum tube technology was used in computers, and this technology necessitated the use of vacuum tubes that were bulky and fragile. As a result, computers were huge, and it was difficult to move them around. The first breakthrough came in 1947 when Bell Telephone Labs introduced transistors, that were much smaller and more reliable than vacuum tubes. However, these transistors had to be connected to form circuits, which means they had to be soldered by hand. This soldering was time-consuming and effort-centric, and also, the wiring could not be changed.

To overcome these problems, Kilby and his team began searching for an alternative. He tried many materials, and ultimately decided that semiconductors could solve his problem. On September 12, 1958, he demonstrated his rather crude device to TI executives including the Chairman, Mark Shepherd. When he pressed the switch to his device, it created an undulating sine curve, and his device worked.

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This historic integrated circuit is being auctioned by Christie's on June 19 in New York, and this piece is expected to fetch up to $2 million. This integrated circuit is mounted on a glass, and is put in a plastic case. It is even labeled with Kilby's own handwriting. This integrated circuit is being auctioned by the family of Tom Yeargan, one of the members of Kilby's team that executed the theories of Kilby to create circuits for computers. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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