Jack St. Clair Kilby

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Jack St. Clair Kilby


American Electrical Engineer

Jack St. Clair Kilby shares credit with the late Robert Noyce (1927-1990) as inventor of the integrated circuit, or microchip, which has been called the most influential invention of the twentieth century. Certainly it can be considered the most important invention of the century's second half, as the automobile was to the first. The world of computers, cellular phones, fax machines, satellite television, and many other fixtures of modern life could not exist without this tiny instrument, first created by Kilby and shortly afterward improved by Noyce.

Kilby was born on November 8, 1923, in Jefferson City, Missouri. He grew up in Kansas, where his father, an engineer, helped install that state's power grid. In 1947, he earned a B.S.E.E. degree from the University of Illinois, and went on to acquire an M.S.E.E. at the University of Wisconsin in 1950.

From 1947 to 1958, Kilby worked at the Centralab Division of Globe Union Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it was his job to design and develop thick-film integrated circuits. In 1958, he moved to Dallas, where he has lived ever since—in 1998, he was reportedly still living in the house he bought 40 years before. In Dallas, Kilby went to work for Texas Instruments, and later in 1958, he constructed the first monolithic integrated circuit.

Up to this point, computers relied on slow, ungainly vacuum tubes to do their processing. Kilby developed a single, self-contained unit about the size of a fingernail, which worked much faster than the old tubes. His chip, which was first displayed at the Institute of Radio Engineers Show in 1959, was made of germanium, and relied on external wires. It was difficult to manufacture, however, but Noyce's silicon chip, which debuted six months later, overcame this obstacle. Nonetheless, it was Kilby's chip that helped inaugurate what is sometimes called the "fourth generation" of computers.

Kilby and Noyce both went on record repeatedly stating that they should be viewed as independent co-creators; but since Kilby was working for Texas Instruments and Noyce for Fairchild Semiconductor, a company he helped establish, the issue assumed the character of an inter-company rivalry. In 1970, Kilby left Texas Instruments to work on his own, focusing on areas such as the development of a solar energy system.

Kilby has also concerned himself with promoting innovation by establishing the Kilby Awards, which annually recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions in science, technology, and education. In 1983, he officially went into retirement, but maintained an office at Texas Instruments headquarters, and in the late 1990s still made it a habit to stop in at least once a week.