Robert N. Noyce Biography (1927-1990)

physicist, inventor, and entrepreneur

As the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, Robert Noyce was a founder of the modern electronics industry. He was born and raised in Iowa, the son of aCongregational minister. As a physics major at Grinnell College in Grinnell,Iowa, Noyce worked with one of the first transistors. It had been given to his physics professor Grant Gale by one of its co-inventors, John Bardeen. Noyce received his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953 and became a research engineer at Philco Corporation, working on germanium transistor development. In 1956 Noyce began research on the physics of silicon transistors at the newly established Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, started by another transistor co-inventor, William Shockley. The lab's whereabouts, near Palo Alto, California, eventually became known as Silicon Valley because so many electronics companies sprouted there.

Noyce's story is a case in point. Unhappy with Shockley's management style, he and seven fellow scientists secured financial backing from Fairchild Camera& Instrument Corporation of New York, left Shockley Lab, and founded their own firm, Fairchild Semiconductor, in 1957--establishing a pattern that would become common in Silicon Valley. As director of research and developmentat Fairchild, Noyce concentrated efforts on ways to improve and simplify themultiple circuit interconnections required for sophisticated electronics. Early in 1959 he combined all these elements on a single silicon chip, an invention he called an integrated circuit. Although he filed a patent application later that year, a long legal battle with Texas Instruments and Jack Kilby, who had also invented an integrated circuit, ensued. Noyce was ultimately awarded the patent in 1969.

Meanwhile, the electronics industry was revolutionized by integrated circuits, and Fairchild produced more of them than anyone else. In 1968, following Silicon Valley tradition, Noyce left Fairchild with fellow scientists Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove and founded Intel Corporation. The new company focused on semiconductor memory, developing vastly improved chips and inventing the microprocessor.

After 1975, Noyce increasingly worked to promote the electronics industry andstrengthen it in the face of foreign competition. He founded and lobbied forthe Semiconductor Industry Association and was also the leader of Sematech,a consortium of fourteen semiconductor companies he helped form in 1988. He became known as the "Mayor of Silicon Valley," its elder statesman. Noyce's interests in Intel and the patent rights to the microchip made him wealthy. Hewas a gregarious, open man with a variety of active interests, including hanggliding, scuba diving, and piloting his own airplanes. He died suddenly after suffering a heart attack at his Austin, Texas, home at the age of sixty-two.

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