Goodbye Jack

Posted on June 23, 2005 
Filed Under Uncategorized

The inventor of the integrated circuit Jack St. Clair Kilby passed away on June 20, 2005, in Dallas following a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.

Few realize how monumental this person was to our very existence.

Without Jack’s invention, there would be none of everything we now take for granted — no digital cameras, no cellphones, no personal computers, no Internet –and, indeed, I wonder what tech journalism would have eventually evolved into without it.

As a junior engineer and new employee at Texas Instruments in 1958, Jack was not entitled to two-weeks summer vacation. So he hung out at his quiet plant in Dallas to figure out “a problem.”

“I was sitting at a desk, probably stayed there a little longer than usual,” he recalled in a 1980 interview. “Most of it formed pretty clearly during the course of that day. When I was finished, I had some drawings in a notebook, which I showed my supervisor when he returned. There was some slight skepticism, but basically they realized its importance.”

Working with borrowed and improvised equipment, he fabricated an electronic circuit with all of the components, both active and passive, on a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip.

He tested that first simple microchip on September 12, 1958. It worked. In 1960, the company announced the first chips for customer evaluation and two years later, TI won its first major integrated circuit contract to design and build a family of 22 special circuits for the Minuteman missile.

The integrated circuit remains at the heart of all electronics today. Sales of the worldwide integrated circuit market in 2004 totaled US$179 billion. These components supported a 2004 worldwide electronic end-equipment market of US$1,186 billion. Such is the power of one idea.

At 6 foot 6 inches in height, Jack was occasionally called the “gentle giant” in the press and is remembered fondly by friends and associates for being in every sense of the word a gentleman and a gentle man.

Whenever people would mention that Kilby was responsible for the entire modern digital world, he liked to tell the story of the beaver and the rabbit sitting in the woods near Hoover Dam. “Did you build that one?” the rabbit asked. “No, but it was based on an idea of mine,” the beaver replied.

A man of few words, Jack was always quick to credit the thousands of engineers who followed him for their impact on growing the industry.

Jack scoffed at the notion of a Nobel Prize. “Those big prizes are for the advancement of understanding,” Kilby would explain in his slow, plainspoken Kansas way. “They are for scientists, who are motivated by pure knowledge. But I’m an engineer. I’m motivated by a need to solve problems, to make something work. For guys like me, the prize is seeing a successful solution.”

Jack was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000.

He is quoted in an article in the Washington Post, as saying: “Scientists get the theories. But engineers make them work. And the engineer has the added challenge of cost, because if your solution works but it costs too much, there will never be any application.”

Touching Lives on Micro and Macro Scales
The Chip that Jack Built Changed the World
Jack Kilby, Inventor of the Integrated Circuit, Dies at 81
About Jack
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