Memoir

John Bardeen

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

May 23, 1908 - January 30, 1991


Election Year: 1954
Scientific Discipline: Physics
Membership Type: Member

John Bardeen was a co-inventor of the transistor (establishing him as a founding father of the electronic revolution) and leader of the team that developed the microscopic theory of superconductivity. Having been recognized at the highest level for both of these contributions, he remains the only scientist to have shared in two Nobel Prizes in Physics (awarded 1956 and 1972). His distinguished career as a researcher, inventor, and teacher was hailed with numerous other honors as well. “But what greater honor can there be,” the Chicago Tribune wrote after his death in 1991, “when each of us can look all around us and everywhere see the reminders of a man whose genius has made our lives longer, healthier, and better.”

Bardeen studied electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from which he graduated with a B.S. in 1928 and an M.S. in 1930. He received his Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Princeton University in 1936. Bardeen became an assistant professor of physics in 1938 at the University of Minnesota, where he began to work seriously on superconductivity. During World War II he headed a group at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory that was concerned with magnetic mines and torpedoes as well as with countermeasures against them. At war’s end, Bardeen was recruited to Bell Laboratories as a member of an interdisciplinary solid-state department formed to apply the understanding of solids at the atomic level, made possible by quantum theory, to develop new materials for components in the Bell Telephone system. It was there that he and his colleagues Walter Brattain and William Schockley invented the transistor in 1947.

Bardeen moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1951 with a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Department of Physics; he established a laboratory devoted to semiconductor research in the electrical engineering department and pursued his theoretical research on superconductivity in the physics department. In 1957, with his UIUC colleagues Leon Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer, Bardeen developed the microscopic theory of superconductivity (thereafter termed BCS, this theory is considered a high point in the history of physics in the 20th century). Bardeen was based at UIUC for the rest of his career. Meanwhile, he also established a long-term relationship with the Xerox Corporation, was a consultant to other companies as well, and also served the U.S. government as an advisor to several presidents.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software