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Jack Kilby, co-inventor of the IC, dies at 81

Posted: 23 Jun 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:microelectronics? integrated circuit?

Jack St. Clair Kilby, retired TI engineer and acknowledged as the first inventor of the integrated circuit, passed away in Dallas Monday (June 20) after a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.

Considered a pioneer of the microelectronics age, Kilby invented the first monolithic integrated circuit, laying the foundation for a wave of miniaturization and integration that continues at a rapid pace. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his role in the invention of the integrated circuit.

"In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it -- Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Jack Kilby," said Tom Engibous, chairman of Texas Instruments, in a statement. "If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack's invention of the first integrated circuit."

Kilby was a known as man of few words, but is remembered fondly by friends and associates as both a gentleman and gentle man. Standing 6 feet 6 inches high, he was occasionally called the "gentle giant" in the press.

But Kilby was not afraid to raise his voice on issues near and dear to his heart.

Upon receiving the Nobel prize in physics in 2000, Kilby, in an interview with EE Times, decried what he thought was the disturbing industry trend to tie research into rapid commercialization.

"I see two roles, and I think they're both very valuable," Kilby said during the interview. "Much of what we do has a very strong academic basis. [But] sometimes corporate research is required [so it can be] put into useable form and commercialized."

Kilby was also humble. When interviewed by EE Times in 2000, he was quick to point out that former Fairchild scientist Robert Noyce, who applied for an IC patent July 30, 1959, had developed an IC design that turned out to be more manufacturable than his and could have merited a Nobel prize as well.

Though TI and Fairchild sparred for some years over who invented the IC, today many consider Kilby and Noyce both co-inventors.

Although Kilby had management roles at TI, he considered himself first and foremost an engineer. Besides the IC, he also played a key role in two other inventions-the handheld electronic calculator and the thermal printer. All told, Kilby held over 60 patents for electronics inventions.

"Jack Kilby was always an engineer's engineer," said Gordon Moore, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Intel, in a statement. "He remained true to his technical roots, loyal to the principles of science and was always a gentleman to those who had the pleasure to meet him. He will be missed."

Early interest in electronics

Raised in Great Bend, Ks., Kilby's interest in electronics was fostered early. His father ran a small power company with customers scattered across rural western Kansas. When a severe ice storm drowned telephone and power lines, Kilby's father worked with amateur radio operators to communicate with his customers, triggering the younger Kilby's lifelong fascination with electronics.

Kilby pursued his electronics interest at the University of Illinois, though his studies were interrupted when he joined the Army during World War II. Following the war, Kilby completed his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois in 1947.

Upon graduation, Kilby took a position with Centralab in Milwaukee, where he first worked with transistors. At the same time, he pursued graduate studies in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, receiving a master's degree in 1950.

A key turning point in Kilby's career was joining Texas Instruments in 1958 at the urging of Willis Adcock, who at the time managed TI's development department.

Adcock became a mentor to Kilby, guiding and supporting his research work, and later became a vice president at TI before retiring in 1986. When Adcock died in 2003 at the age of 81, Kilby was an honorary pallbearer at Adcock's funeral.

It was during the summer of 1958, while most of his colleagues were on vacation, when Kilby conceived the integrated circuit.

"I was sitting at a desk, probably stayed there a little longer than usual," Kilby was quoted as saying in a 1980 interview. "Most of it formed pretty clearly during the course of that day. When I was finished, I had some drawings in a notebook, which I showed my supervisor when he returned. There was some slight skepticism, but basically they realized its importance."

Transforming the industry

Kilby's IC, fabricated on a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper chip, was first demonstrated on Sept. 12, 1958. That invention would soon transform the industry.

In 1960, Texas Instruments announced the first chips for customer evaluation, and two years later won its first major integrated circuit contract to design and build a family of 22 special circuits for the Minuteman missile.

For his pioneering efforts, Kilby's TI career took off. After several engineering management positions between 1960 and 1968, he was named assistant vice president. But perhaps seeking more time to tinker, Kilby took leave of absence in 1970 to become an independent consultant for TI.

After retiring from TI in 1983, Kilby remained a consultant with the company, though he also had a stint on the board of directors of optical components supplier Bookham Technology-- considered more of a public relations coup.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Kilby was one of only 13 Americans to receive both the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology, the highest technical awards given by the U.S. government. In 1993, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology.

Kilby also received the first international Charles Stark Draper Prize, the world's top engineering award, from the National Academy of Engineering in 1989. He is also honored in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Kilby is survived by daughters Janet Kilby Cameron and Ann Kilby, five granddaughters, and son-in-law Thomas Cameron. His wife Barbara Annegers Kilby, and sister, Jane Kilby, are both deceased.

- Spencer Chin

EE Times

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