Monday, 16 February 2015

William Shockley ( 1910-1989 )
 Read the biography of William Shockley.called ' Broken Genius ' by Joel Shurkin.
 Shockley's life demonstrates the truth of the maxim ' Pride goeth before a fall '. A brilliant scientist who would have been honoured universally, died a social leper, outcasted by his fellow scientists and the public, because his early successes went to his head and thereafter he became arrogant, offensive and rude, thinking everyone except himself a fool, and deviating from his own field of electronics started regarding himself an expert in eugenics and genetics, in which he had no specialization.
Shockley was one of the most important figures in the applied sciences in the 20th century. He headed the group in Bell Laboratories which included brilliant scientists like Bardeen and Brattain who created a seminal invention of the modern world, the transistor ( for which the 3 jointly got the Nobel Prize in 1956 ).
 The transistor led to the integrated circuit, the integrated circuit led to the microprocessor,  and these devices combined with the computer, which had been invented a few years earlier, resulted in a scientific revolution which changed the whole world.
 Shockley won many high awards, and became a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientific body in America.
  Although he was for many years in Bell Laboratories in the east coast of U.S.A., he left that company in the 1950s and went west to north California, and with the financial support of scientist turned businessman, Arnold Beckman, started Shockley Semiconductors. This company failed, mainly because Shockley, though a great scientist, had no management skills,and by his arrogance and rude behaviour alienated many brilliant scientists who had joined his company.
 Shockley had rightly concluded that the future in electronics was in silicon, and not in germanium, on which till then almost all research and devices were based. But then, for some inexplicable reason, he made a disastrous decision, against the opinion of all the senior scientists working in his company. The company would still make silicon devices, he said, but they would not be transistors ( for which there was a huge market ) but a four layer diode ( for which there was none ). Inevitably Shockley Semiconductors collapsed.
 Eight of the brilliant scientists ( known as the ' Traitorous Eight ' ),such as Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, etc left Shockley Semiconductors and formed a company called Fairchild Semiconductors ( because it was financed by multi- millionaire, Sherman Fairchild, who later took over the company ).  Many of the scientists in Fairchild Semiconductors later formed their own companies.
 A genealogy of Silicon Valley reveals that almost every leading company in the valley shows a line leading directly to someone who had worked in Fairchild Semiconductors, and later left it to form his own company. For instance, Moore and Noyce jointly started Intel, which later became a giant. But everyone at Fairchild Semiconductor had originally come from Shockley Semiconductor, and so Shockley could be said to be the grandfather of Silicon Valley
 Shockley then joined Stanford University as a Professor, but he became even more strange, cranky and idiosyncratic, He practically abandoned the field of his specialization, which was electronics and physics, and entered fields in which he had no specialization---genetics, eugenics and dysgenics.. He started propounding the theory that intelligence is connected with one's race, indirectly hinting that blacks were inferior to whites. In effect, Shockley had become a racist, and this totally destroyed his crediblity. By the time of his death almost no one wanted to be associated with him, except some racist groups.
 Pride goeth before a fall.


  1. When I was in college I heard Shockley speak. I was underwhelmed. And it was pretty much downhill for him from there.

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