Robert N. Noyce

SEMATECH

December 12, 1927 - June 3, 1990


Election Year: 1980
Scientific Discipline: Engineering Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Robert N. Noyce was the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, or the microchip.  After receiving his doctorate, he went to work at Shockley Semiconductors Laboratories in 1956, and there he laid the foundation for the development of silicon transistors and other semiconductor devices.  Noyce and seven of his colleagues left Shockley to create their own company: the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in 1957.  As the research director of the company, he worked on the development of the silicon mesa and planar transistors, which led him to invent his integrated circuit composed of a complete circuit containing interconnected transistors, resistors, and diodes in a small silicon chip.  In 1959, Noyce became the general manager of Fairchild, and he began marketing his microchip, which in turn made Fairchild the first successful semiconductor company.  The small size, low cost, high reliability, and efficiency of the integrated circuit allowed engineers around the world to create a vast array of technologically advanced products (i.e. calculators, digital watches, and ATMs among many others).  Due to the use of silicon in his chip, the term Silicon Valley was given to the San Francisco Bay area of California where Fairchild and many other technological corporations resided, and Noyce was dubbed “The Mayor of Silicon Valley.”  In 1968, he left Fairchild to co-found (with Gordon E. Moore) the Intel Corporation, which quickly overtook Fairchild in technological advancements.  They were the first company to produce high-density memory components (such as DRAM, SRAM, and EDROM) and microprocessors, which led to the development of personal computers.  In 1987, fourteen major electronics companies combined their resources to form Sematech, a new-industry government consortium with the goal of making U.S. semiconductor companies regain global leadership in technology from Japan.  Although he was reluctant to do so, Noyce became the head of Sematech in 1988, a position he held until his death in 1990.

Noyce attended Grinnell College and received his B.A. degree in physics and mathematics in 1949.  He then earned his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.  He co-found the Semiconductor Industry Association in 1977, and lobbied the government to promote the budding semiconductor businesses in the Silicon Valley. For his immensely important invention of the integrated circuit, the creation of two powerful and influential semiconductor companies, and his contributions to the expansion of the American semiconductor and electronics industries, Noyce was the recipient of many different awards and was inducted into several prestigious institutions.  The most notable awards he received were the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1966, the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Medal of Honor in 1978, the National Medal of Science in 1979, and the National Medal of Technology in 1987.  He was also elected to the National Academy of Engineers in 1969 and the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in 1983. 

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