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  • Writer's pictureManitoba Electrical Museum

Transistors: A Tiny Component With Big Potential

This year marks 72 years since the transistor was patented by John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William B. Shockley. Their patent application for the semiconductor known as “transistors” was sent on September 25, 1948. Two years later, the transistor was patented on April 4, 1950. This marked the end of the vacuum tube and a new era that paved the way for all modern electronics.

In the 1930s, vacuum tubes were essential components to make radios, computers, and TVs to help regulate electrons to move a certain way between the metal electrodes sealed inside the tubes. Bell Labs in New Jersey, a research arm of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), wanted to develop technology that could replace vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes were bulky and had limitations that were preventing technological advancements. First, vacuum tubes were prone to overheating, so a cooling system was needed to protect against overheating. Secondly, it needed lots of energy to be able to do its intended function.

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain. Picture by AT&T. Public domain.

Then on December 23, 1947, the team at Bell Laboratories (John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William B. Shockley) successfully demonstrated the first transistor. They amplify electrical current with a “transfer resistor”, now known as a “transistor”. Transistors were a lot smaller and used less energy, which unlocked the potential for microtechnology. According to Bell Labs, there are trillions of transistors on Earth and billions in space today.

For the creation of the transistor, John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William B. Shockley earned the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics. All of them were inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1974.

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