John Bardeen Biography

John Bardeen was an American physicist and inventor - he was one of the research group that invented the point contact transistor.

John Bardeen was an American physicist and electrical engineer, one of the trio who invented the point contact transistor.

He also holds the distinction that he is and the only person to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. The first time was in 1956 with Walter Brattain and William Shockley for the invention of the transistor, and the second time was in 1972 with Leon N Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer for a fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity.

John Bardeen early life & education

John Bardeen was the only one of the main trio of the transistor inventors who was born in the USA. William Shockley was born in England and Walter Brattain in China - both to America parents.

John Bardeen was born in Wisconsin in May 1908. He was the son of Charles Russell Bardeen, who was the first dean of the University of Wisconsin Medical School.

In 1928 Bardeen gained a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then received his Master's degree in 1929, again from Wisconsin.

After graduating from Wisconsin Bardeen went to work for Gulf Research Laboratories, part of the Gulf Oil Corporation in Pittsburgh, but working as a geophysicist here did not captivate his interest as he would like. As a result he went to study mathematics and physics for his Ph.D. at Princeton, receiving his Ph.D. in 1936.

Bardeen at Bell Labs

John Bardeen began his work at Bell Labs, joining the Solid State Physics Group under William Shockley and chemist Stanley Morgan.

The aim of the group Bardeen had joined was to find a semiconductor based replacement for the vacuum tubes that were fragile, large and had reliability problems.

The group initially tried to use an external electric field to control the conductivity of a semiconductor but each time the experiments failed and ultimately the group came to a halt, not knowing which way to turn.

It was Bardeen who suggested a theory that invoked surface states that prevented the field from penetrating the semiconductor. This broke the 'log-jam' and work swiftly moved forwards, leading ultimately to them looking at point contacts on a semiconductor. They surrounded the point contacts between the semiconductor and the conducting wires with electrolytes, finally gaining evidence of amplification.

On 23rd December 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain who were working without Shockley, succeeded in creating a point-contact transistor that achieved amplification.

It appeared that Shockley tried to take much of the credit although Bell Labs consistently presented all there as the inventors. However Shockley's actions severely damaged the relationship between him and both John Bardeen and Walter Brattain.

Bardeen seeks new pastures

By the early 1950s, John Bardeen wanted to seek another job. He was offered a position at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1951 where he became Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Physics.

While he was at Illinois, Bardeen set up major research programmes in both of the departments with which he was associated. In the Electrical Engineering Department the programme investigated experimental and theoretical aspects of semiconductors. The programme for the Physics Department investigated theoretical aspects of macroscopic quantum systems, particularly superconductivity and quantum liquids.

It was the work on superconductivity for which John Bardeen received his second Nobel Prize.

Bardeen remained at Illinois from 1951 to 1975, ultimately becoming Professor Emeritus.

Bardeen's Nobel prizes

In 1956 he received a Nobel Prize along with Shockley and Brattain for his work on the transistor, but by this time he was involved in research into superconductors. It was in this area that he felt he made his greatest achievements, and in 1972 he was awarded a second Nobel prize for this work. In addition to his Nobel Prizes he received a number of other awards, including a gold medal from the Soviet Academy for Science. Bardeen died at the age of 82 at the beginning of February 1991.

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