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William Shockley: Still controversial, after all these years

About 30 colleagues of William Shockley, who came to Stanford in 1963 as a professor of electrical engineering and died in 1989, met Friday at the Center for Integrated Systems (CIS) to honor the co-inventor of the transistor. Shockley was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for that accomplishment in 1956, but later in his career publicized views on race, intelligence and eugenics that made him a leper among laureates. The group, whose members largely worked in Shockley's startup company before the inventor came to Stanford, has met on and off since 1956 to reminisce about Shockley's role in sparking the information technology revolution.

"Shockley is the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley," said meeting organizer and CIS building designer Jacques Beaudouin. Shockley left Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J., in 1955 and headed west, convinced that germanium was not the material of choice for making miniature electrical switches. The material was electrically "leaky" and didn't perform well in heat.

Those who gathered this year included Shockley's 89-year-old widow, Emmy. The youngest attendee was over 60; the oldest, age 95. They heard a 20-minute talk from Stanford alumnus and former postdoctoral fellow Eric Perozziello of CIS about futuristic silicon technologies, including a microneedle that uses capillary action to suck blood into a silicon chip for medical analysis and micromirrors that deflect light for communications applications. They toured CIS, a state-of-the-art microelectronics research and development facility described by executive director Richard Dasher as "the grandchild of the work done in the Shockley lab." And they reminisced over dinner at Bytes Café in the Packard Electrical Engineering Building, a stone's throw away from half a dozen other buildings made possible by the generosity of pioneers in information technology.

Five miles from campus, at 391 San Antonio Road in Mountain View, Shockley established Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. The site is now home to a furniture store whose sidewalk bears a plaque in part stating: "At this location in 1956, Dr. William Shockley started the first silicon device research and manufacturing company in the valley. The individuals that gathered to work at this site went on to form the pioneering Silicon Valley startup company, Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, and invent the first practicable integrated circuit."

The plaque hints at one of the dramas in Shockley's life: the resignation of eight workers who protested a scientific pathway that Shockley insisted upon taking that seemed commercially doomed ­ working on an obscure device called the four-layer diode instead of cheap silicon transistors. Those workers went on to found Fairchild, and later Intel and other Valley legends. Their departure may have defused Shockley's stubbornness, says colleague Kurt Hubner. Those who met Friday, including Hubner and Sam Fok, who built the Valley's first clean room with parts bought from Sears and Army surplus, joined Shockley's company after the revolt. They remembered an affable Shockley, one fond of magic tricks at parties and concerned enough about the safety of an arsenic-exposed worker that he made his secretary clip the worker's nails every Monday for medical analysis.


By Dawn Levy

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