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Shockley, William (Bradford) 1910-1989

SHOCKLEY, William (Bradford) 1910-1989

PERSONAL: Born February 13, 1910, in London, England; died of prostate cancer August 11, 1989, in Palo Alto, CA; son of William Hillman (an American mining engineer) and May (a mineral surveyor; maiden name, Bradford) Shockley; married Jean Alberta Baily, 1933 (divorced, 1955); married Emily I. Lanning (a psychiatric nurse); children (first marriage) Alison, William, Richard. Education: Attended University of CaliforniaLos Angeles; California Institute of Technology, B.A., 1932; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1936.

CAREER: Physicist. Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ, staff physicist, then director of research program on solid-state physics, 1945-54; U.S. Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Research Group, Columbia University, research director, 1942; U.S. Secretary of War, consultant, 1944-45; U.S. Department of Defense Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, director of research, 1954; California Institute of Technology, visiting professor, 1954-55; Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories, founder, 1955-65; Stanford University, Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, 1963-75, emeritus professor of electrical engineering, 1975-89.

AWARDS, HONORS: U.S. Medal of Merit, 1946; Morris E. Liebmann Award, Institute of Radio Engineers, 1951; Comstock Prize, National Academy of Sciences, 1954; Nobel Prize in Physics, 1956, for development of the transistor; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Gold Medal, 1972 and Medal of Honor, 1980; named to National Inventor's Hall of Fame, 1974.


Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors, with Applications to Transistor Electronics, Van Nostrand (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted, R. E. Kreiger Publishing Company (Huntington, NY), 1976.

(Editor, with others), Imperfections in Nearly Perfect Crystals: Symposium Held at Pocono Manor, October 12-14, 1950, John Wiley & Sons (New York, NY), 1952.

(With Walter A. Gong) Mechanics, Charles E. Merrill Books (Columbus, OH), 1966.

Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems, edited by Roger Pearson, preface by Arthur R. Jensen, Scott-Townsend Publishers (Washington, DC), 1992.

SIDELIGHTS: Physicist William Shockley shared the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in the development of the transistor. Shockley was also known for his controversial views on the genetic basis of intelligence, specifically his ideas that people of African descent have a genetically inferior mental capacity when compared with Caucasians. "This hypothesis became the subject of intense and acrimonious debate," wrote a biographer in World of Sociology.

Shockley was born in London, England, on February 13, 1910, to William and May Shockley. The Shockleys, Americans who were living in London on a business arrangement, returned to California in 1913. Shockley was home-schooled until the age of eight. His interest in physics developed early in his life, inspired partially by a neighbor who taught the subject at Stanford. His parents also encouraged his interests in science. After completing his secondary education at Palo Alto Military Academy and Hollywood High School, Shockley attended the University of California, Los Angeles for a year. Shockley completed his advanced education at California Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1932, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was awarded a Ph.D. in physics in 1936. His doctoral research in solid-state physics led to his interest in transistors.

Soon after receiving his Ph.D., Shockley went to work at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. "Shockley's first assignment at Bell was the development of a new type of vacuum tube that would serve as an amplifier," wrote the World of Sociology biographer. "Soon he began to think of a radically new approach to the transmission of electrical signals using solid-state components rather than conventional vacuum tubes. By 1939, Shockley was experimenting with semiconducting materials to achieve that transition."

After serving as research director of the U.S. Navy's Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Research Group at Columbia University from 1942 to 1945 and as a consultant to the U.S. Secretary of War from 1944 to 1945, Shockley returned to Bell Laboratories and assumed the position of director of its research program on solid-state physics. Together with John Bardeen, a theoretical physicist, and Walter Brattain, an experimental physicist, Shockley resumed study of semiconductors as a means of amplification.

"By 1947, Bardeen and Brattain had learned enough about semiconductors to make another attempt at building a device," commented the World of Sociology writer. "This time they were successful. Their device consisted of a piece of germanium with two gold contacts on one side and a tungsten contact on the opposite side. When an electrical current was fed into one of the gold contacts, it appeared in a greatly amplified form on the other side. The device was given the name transistor (for transfer resistor)."

Despite his earlier work on semiconductors that led to the transistor, "Bell Labs attorneys thought it would be wiser to exclude Shockley from that first patent because his work bore some similarity" to the work of Julius Lilienfild, who had done work on a similar transistor in the 1920s, noted a biographer in Electronic Engineering Times. Some believe that Shockley harbored anger at Bardeen and Brattain for the exclusion, yet all three later shared the Nobel Prize for the development of the transistor.

The transistor was announced in a brief article in the July 1, 1948 issue of the New York Times. "Few readers had the vaguest notion of the impact the fingernailsized device would have on the world," the World of Sociology biographer remarked. "In a remarkable series of insights made over a few short weeks, he greatly extended the understanding of semiconductor materials and developed the underlying theory of another, much more robust amplifying device—a kind of sandwich made of a crystal with varying impurities added, which came to be known as the junction transistor," wrote Gordon E. Moore in Time. Shockley proposed a modification to Bardeen and Brattain's device, which worked much better than the previous point contact device. In 1956, Shockley shared the Nobel Prize for physics with Bardeen and Brattain for their development of the transistor.

"Shockley's invention had created a new industry, one that underlies all of modern electronics, from supercomputers to talking greeting cards," Moore observed. "Today, the world produces about as many transistors as it does printed characters in all the newspapers, books, magazines, and computer and electronic-copier pages combined." However, at the time of his death, Shockley thought his work in genetics was more important than the role he played in creating the $130 billion semiconductor industry.

Shockley left Bell Laboratories in 1954 (some sources say 1955), and served in various positions over the next decade, including research director for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group of the Department of Defense and as a visiting professor at Caltech in 1954 and 1955. He founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories—later Shockley Transistor Corporation—in order to take commercial advantage of the transistor. Shockley Transistor was incorporated into Beckman Instruments, Inc., and then Clevite Transistor. The company went out of business in 1968.

In 1963 Shockley undertook a new career, one that would make him the target of considerable controversy. After accepting an appointment at Stanford University as its first Alexander M. Poniatoff Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, he developed an interest in genetics and the related origins of human intelligence. Shockley became particularly interested in the correlation between race and IQ. "Although he had no background in psychology, genetics, or any related field, Shockley began to read on these topics and formulate his own hypotheses," a World of Sociology biographer wrote. "Using data taken primarily from U.S. Army pre-induction IQ tests, Shockley came to the conclusion that the genetic component of a person's intelligence was based on racial heritage. He ignited further controversy with his suggestion that inferior individuals (those with IQ numbered below 100) be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization. The social implications of Shockley's theories were, and still are, profound."

Shockley's theories on the racial basis of intelligence branded him a racist, and he was barred from speaking on several university campuses. "With the same grit that carried him and his team of scientists past failure after failure to the transistor, he pursued a theory that the poor, especially blacks, inherit a genetic inferiority that an improved environment cannot overcome," remarked a writer in U.S. News and World Report. "He believed that black intelligence rises in proportion to a person's percentage of white blood." Shockley was frequently booed and heckled at his speaking engagements, but he held to his beliefs.

Shockley successfully sued the Atlanta Constitution for libel over an article comparing his voluntary sterilization proposal with Nazi genetic experiments. The jury found that Shockley had indeed been libeled, but awarded him $1 in compensation. "Unsparing in the application of his views, Shockley has described his three children as 'a significant regression' (though one has a physics Ph.D. and another graduated from Radcliffe), The fault of his less intelligent first wife, he suggests," wrote Richard Lacayo in Time. "His own genes he holds to be made of sterner stuff." At age seventy, Shockley "announced that he had made donations to a sperm bank established to spawn the offspring of Nobel-prizewinning men and highly intelligent women," Lacayo wrote.

"Those who knew him best described Shockley as a reserved man, independent, intellectually honest, direct, and with a sense of humor," wrote Victoria Tamborrino in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. "Scientifically, he was considered brilliant, perhaps even a genius. His brainchild, the transistor, is, arguably, the most important invention of the twentieth century. Certainly, it revolutionized computer technology, making computers smaller, cheaper, and more reliable. The transistor's use is virtually limitless in communication systems and other electronic devices as well."

As a result of his role in the development of the transistor, Tamborrino wrote, "Shockley made a significant contribution to mankind. Perhaps it is both unfortunate and fitting that his scientific accomplishments are often overshadowed by the memory of his racial views."



Asimov, Isaac, Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Avon (New York, NY), 1976.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

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Palmisano, Joseph M., editor, World of Sociology, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 2: 1986-1990, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY), 1999.

World of Invention, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


America's Network, June 1, 1998, "Fathers of Invention," pp. 32-33.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, September 6, 1984, William E. Schmidt, "Race Genetics Focus of Trial," p. 3.

Datamation, September, 1982, "Thanks for the Memories," p. 27.

Editor & Publisher, September 29, 1984, "A Loss That's Really a Win," p. 15.

Electronic Business, December, 1997, Heidi Elliott, "Happy 50th," pp. 60-63.

Electronic Design, May 7, 2001, Steve Scrupski, "Just Diodes in Hi-Fi Amplifier," p. 48.

Electronic Engineering Times, October 20, 1997, "Leaving the Master," p. 58; January 10, 2000, "Industry Pioneers Inducted into Computer Electronics Hall of Fame," p. 122.

Jet, October 1, 1984, "Journalist Is Fined $1 in Shockley Libel Suit," p. 36.

Journal of Commerce and Commercial, August 2, 1983, Susan Bereitner, "Tiny Transistor Sparked Electronic Revolution," p. 3A.

Los Angeles Daily Journal, September 17, 1984, Adrienne Y. Welch, "Shockley wins Libel Lawsuit, but Georgia Jury Sets $1 Award," p. 3.

Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1984, Peter J. Boyer, "Libel Trial to Provide Forum for Shockley's Controversial Racial Theory," p. 18; September 5, 1984, Peter J. Boyer, "Shockley Race Theory Libel Trial Opens Today," p. 18; September 15, 1984, Peter J. Boyer, "Shockley Wins $1 in Libel Suit on Race Issue," p. 1; October 25, 1999, Ashley Dunn, "With Transistor, They Sparked a Revolution," P. U1.

National Law Journal, September 24, 1984, Michael Hirsley, "The Testing of a Theory about Race: A Question of Libel and Genes," p. 6; October 1, 1984, Michael Hirsley, "Jury Gives Physicist $1 for Libel," p. 8.

New York Times, September 6, 1984, William E. Schmidt, "Trial May focus on Race Genetics; Scientist Who Asserts Blacks are Inferior to Whites Sues Reporter in Libel Case," p. A16; September 15, 1984, "Shockley Wins $1 in Libel Suit," p. 8; August 4, 1985, "$1 Award to Shockley Upheld," p. 18.

Physics Today, December, 1997, "The Moses of Silicon Valley," p. 42.

San Jose Mercury News, July 15, 1998, "Silicon Valley Birthplace: William Shockley's Digs?"

Science '84, November, 1984, John Bardeen, "To a Solid State," p. 143.

Science Digest, June, 1985, Signe Hammer, "Stalking Intelligence: IQ Isn't the End of the Line; You Can Be Smarter," p. 30.

Time, January 3, 1983, Frederic Golden, "Big Dimwits and Little Geniuses," p. 30; September 24, 1984, Richard Lacayo, "A Theory Goes on Trial: In Atlanta, a Controversial Scientist Cries Libel and Wins $1," p. 62; March 29, 1999, Gordon E. Moore, "Solid-State Physicist," p. 160.

U.S. News & World Report, November 5, 1984, Alvin P. Sanoff, "Behind Wave of Libel Suits Hitting Nation's Press," pp. 53-54; August 28, 1989, "Dr. Shockley and Mr. Hyde," p. 16.

Wall Street Journal, September 17, 1984, "Shockley Wins Libel Suit, Gets $1 from Newspapers," p. 13E.

Washington Post, September 12, 1984, Art Harris, "The Shockley Suite: In Atlanta, Debating IQ Ideas Is a Libel Case," p. B1.


Nobel e-Museum, (May 4, 2003), biography of William Shockley.



Electronic Engineering Times, August 21, 1989, p. 4.

Electronic News, August 21, 1989, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, August 14, 1989, p. 1.

Nature, September 21, 1989, p. 190.

New York Times, August 14, 1989, p. B15.

Physics Today, June, 1991, pp. 130-131.

Solid State Technology, September, 1989, p. 44.

Time, August 28, 1989, p. 61.*

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