Robert Noyce – the “Mayor of Silicon Valley”

Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore in front of the Intel SC1 building in Santa Clara in 1970. Image: Intel Free Press

Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore in front of the Intel SC1 building in Santa Clara in 1970. Image: Intel Free Press, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On December 12, 1926American engineer and inventor Robert Noyce was born. Nicknamed “the Mayor of Silicon Valley,” Noyce co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel Corporation in 1968. He is credited along with Jack Kilby with the realization of the first integrated circuit or microchip that fueled the personal computer revolution.

“Innovation is everything. When you’re on the forefront, you can see what the next innovation needs to be. When you’re behind, you have to spend your energy catching up.”
– Robert Noyce, as quoted in [6]

Robert Noyce – Early Years

Robert Noyce was born in Burlington, Iowa, the third of four sons of the Rev. Ralph Brewster Noyce, who in the 1930s and 1940s worked as a Congregational clergyman and as the associate superintendent of the Iowa Conference of Congregational Churches. His mother, Harriet May Norton, was the daughter of the Rev. Milton J. Norton, a Congregational clergyman, and Louise Hill. Robert Noyce is known to have been a visionary and creative already early in his life. At the age of 12, he built a boy-sized aircraft with his brother, which they used to fly from the roof of the Grinnell College stables. The young man further built a radio and motorized his sled by welding a propeller and an engine from an old washing machine.

Rapid Robert’S Academic Education

Noyce grew up in Grinnell, IowaDuring his senior year in high school, Noyce took the Grinnell College freshman physics course and entered the college in 1945. As a student at Grinnell College, Noyce stole a pig from a nearby farm and slaughtered it for a college Lūʻau This incident almost led to Noyce being exmatriculated. Only the intervention of a physics professor prevented this. When he graduated in 1949, Noyce received an honor from his classmates, the Brown Derby Prize. It recognized “the senior man who earned the best grades with the least amount of work”. While Noyce was an undergraduate, he was fascinated by the field of physics and took a course in the subject that was taught by professor Grant Gale. Gale obtained two of the very first transistors ever to come out of Bell Labs and showed them off to his class. Noyce was hooked. Gale suggested that he apply to the doctoral program in physics at MIT, which he did During his graduate studies, Noyce was also nicknamed “Rapid Robert” due to his quick mind. Robert Noyce received his doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.

The Traitorous Eight

At the Philco Corporation in Philadelphia, Noyce took his first position as a research engineer. He joined William Shockley,[3] a co-inventor of the transistor and eventual Nobel Prize winner, at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, a division of Beckman Instruments. After internal differences of opinion, he left the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957 as one of the so-called Traitorous Eight and founded Fairchild Semiconductor together with the other Traitorous Eight. The name Treacherous Eight was invented by Shockley. Others speak more neutrally of the Fairchild Eight or Shockley Eight. For some time they were also called the Fairchildren. The Eight are: Victor Grinich, Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Eugene Kleiner, Julius Blank, Sheldon Roberts, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last.

The Monolithically Manufactured IC

At Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce succeeded in 1959 in producing the first monolithically manufactured integrated circuit. The invention was mainly based on the planar technology developed by Jean Hoerni (Fairchild), with which several transistors, diodes and resistors could be placed on a silicon substrate (“chip”) for the first time. Photolithographic processes and diffusion processes, which Fairchild Semiconductor had developed shortly before for the production of the first modern diffusion bipolar transistor in planar technology, had already been used for production. However, the invention of the integrated circuit is not attributed solely to Noyce. Jack Kilby (Texas Instruments) also developed a similar idea at this time, independent of Fairchild, see Integrated Circuits in Microelectronics.[4] The decisive factor in Noyce’s invention was the complete production of the components, including wiring, on a substrate; in contrast to Kilby’s approach, which still used wires to connect the components. Nevertheless, Texas Instruments won after years of litigation with Fairchild, in which, among other things, the licenses resulting from the inventions were involved.

The Intel Years

In 1968, Robert Noyce founded Intel along with Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove. Noyce was regarded as a highly visionary and inspiring persona while Moore and Grove were mostly regarded technologists. “For leadership in research development and manufacture of semiconductor devices”, he received the IEEE Fellow Award in 1966. Further awards included the IEEE Medal of Honor (1978), the Cledo Brunetti Award and the Stuart Ballantine Medal (Franklin Institute, 1966) as well as the National Medal of Science (1979)[6]. In 1980 he was admitted to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Robert Noyce also is known to have brought a more relaxed working atmosphere into intel. He rewarded as well as encouraged teamwork and his follow-your-bliss management style set the tone for many Valley success stories. Some called Noyce’s management style a “roll up your sleeves” style. It is believed that he avoided expensive corporate cars as well as reserved parking spaces, private jets, offices, and furnishings in favor of a less-structured, relaxed working environment in which everyone contributed and no one received lavish benefits.

Robert Noyce died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 62. He left behind the Noyce Foundation. Jack Kilby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his invention of the integrated circuit. This honour was denied to Noyce because the prize is not awarded posthumously. In his honor the IEEE awards the Robert N. Noyce Medal.

Robert Noyce, The Impact of Integrated Circuits, [9]

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