Getting History Right is an Important Matter
"Getting history right is an important matter." Thus begins a paper by Dr. Arjun N. Saxena, entitled "Monolithic Concept and the Inventions of Integrated Circuits by Kilby and Noyce" and presented by him on May 24 at the Nano Science and Technology Institute Annual Conference in Santa Clara, California. Saxena himself was a primary participant in the development of integrated circuits (ICs), and his paper goes into great detail about matters about which many people (myself included) had not gotten the "history right".
I met Dr. Saxena at the 88th birthday celebration for Professor Wolfgang Panofsky at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in April of this year. The conversation between us drifted toward the subject of historical accuracy, and he asked me who I thought had invented the integrated circuit. When I answered "The usual understanding is that Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit.", he told me about his upcoming talk about the subject and invited me to attend.
Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize in the year 2000 for his role in the invention of the integrated circuit, and many people assume that the ICs now in use are due to Kilby's invention. At his presentation, however, Saxena presented extensive historical evidence pointing to major roles by other inventors. I would say that Saxena's main point is that the monolithic IC was not invented by Kilby, but rather by Robert Noyce. Instead, Kilby invented a hybrid IC, a type that is not used commercially. Saxena emphasized the distinction between the monolithic and the hybrid IC, referring in his paper to the former as "…the only kind sold from the inception in the IC industry…"
Quotations from his paper give very clear voice to the points that he wished to emphasize:
"The issues in the inventions of ICs by Kilby, Noyce and the others are intricately entwined technically, chronologically, and legally patent wise… the key concepts for the monolithic IC were first documented by Noyce, even though the reduction to practice of his invention was done by others, and it depended crucially on Hoerni's and Lehovec's inventions."
"Kilby missed the key concepts of monolithic interconnects and planar technology necessary to fabricate monolithic-IC. The reduction to practice was done by Kilby [himself] using Ge [germanium] mesa technology and wire bonded interconnects dangling above the chip which are not used in monolithic-ICs. Kilby was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000, and he is generally regarded as the inventor of ICs, implying monolithic ICs, which is not pedantically accurate."
One of the more intriguing ideas presented by Saxena concerns the filing date of one of Kilby's patents. Kilby claimed a filing date of February 6, 1959. However, when Saxena dealt with the patent office to obtain copies of Kilby's application, he received two contradictory responses: One response indicated a filing date of May 6, 1959, and the other response said, "The product or service you requested cannot be fulfilled because the application …does not have an official filing date." Saxena wrote in his paper, "The above seemingly contradictory responses from the USPTO cannot be explained…one fact is clear from the above responses: the official filing date of Kilby's [application]…was not February 6, 1959, as claimed by Kilby… Either it was May 06, 1959… or it did not have an official filing date at all…"
I found Dr. Saxena's paper fascinating because it gives a detailed example, of great historical importance, of how ideas can be "intricately entwined". In the case of important ideas, this can lead to distortions of history, both intentional and unintentional. The entire abstract of his paper can be viewed now at
When Someone Else’s Office Becomes Yours
On one of my recent assignments for New York University Archives, my boss told me, “Well, Alex, we need someone to go to the Physics Department and box some things up.” Fair enough, I thought. She led me and a coworker over to the building, got out a key and opened an office on the sixth floor. We stepped in. It looked like the man had just gone off to lunch. There were papers and a mug on the desk, some chairs scattered about, a rickety kitchen table in the center of the room (presumably used for consulting over problems), and stacks of books everywhere. LARRY SPRUCH was emblazoned across the nameplate on the desk. We were to box up everything that was labeled for archives. Already, I was suspecting…
Before long, my coworker said to my boss, “So where’s this guy moving to?”
My boss: “He moved upstairs.”
“Just one floor up?”
“Waaay upstairs … to heaven.”
This was creepy. I felt like one of those people who are paid to scrub blood off the sidewalk after a murder so that citizens can walk up and down 59th Street without a second thought; I would clean out the office, a bright-eyed young professor would move in, and Larry Spruch would be confined to Row H, Columns 4 - 17 in a storage warehouse somewhere. It was disconcerting.
Worse still: the scene before me was uncannily familiar. My father is a physics professor at the University of Nebraska, so I grew up around walls made of painted concrete cinder blocks, dusty shelves, filthy windows, and stacks of journals. Here, too, there were papers and books everywhere, and scant few photographs or adornments. Everything was horribly dated — the chairs from the sixties, a rotary phone on the desk, carpet from three decades past, utilitarian metal bookcases, a 1973 poster of Universitat Heidelberg affixed to one wall, a panoramic view of the Alps on another. If there is a physics professor aesthetic, this is it: cluttered, filthy, yet Spartan. No comforts, amenities, or bling. Just stacks of articles, some flat surfaces on which to write, a computer or three, and an obligatory poster or two on the wall.
My coworker mumbled, as she was sorting through the papers, “This is all physics equations, this is so far over my head…” Not for me. Left and right I was having flashbacks. The thick white tome “Quantum Mechanics: Volume One” was comforting — a visual touchstone from my pre-teen years, when I’d spent hours sitting around my father’s office. Thirty-five years of “Reviews of Modern Physics” arranged across a bookshelf — my father has the same set up. The ancient Swingline stapler on Mr. Spruch’s desk was the exact same model I use in my apartment — I got it from my family’s “extras” pile when I moved away to college. At first these affinities were frightening, but soon they became comforting. For example, there’s the indelible charm of a paper entitled “Mechanisms for Charge Transfer (or For the Capture of Any Light Particle) at Asymptotically High Impact Velocities.” I love this title because, like many physics papers, it’s mind-numbingly straightforward and yet highly esoteric.
This wasn’t just a scrapbook of Larry Spruch’s life – it was a scrapbook of my life. Let me describe some more: I found the cover of a 1965 booklet “Advantages of the Boulder-Denver Area for the 200-300 BeV Proton Accelerator.” The whole thing was very familiar: my father took a sabbatical at the University of Colorado at Boulder for a year in 1992-93. Our family lived there that summer. Throughout the office I was finding these connections. And then, towards the end of my assignment, I found a list of
. The sheet of paper had been separated from others, so it was unclear what conference it was for or when it had taken place, but, as I expected, my father, A. F. Starace, was one of the participants. The description “Strong B Fields
,” was scrawled next to his name. Evidently, that’s what he presented. Also amongst the conference participants were P. Burrow (whose daughter used to babysit me), U. Fano (I threw up on him in a London taxi cab, summer of 1985), D. J. Burns (whose daughter I went to high school with), and J. A. R. Samson (a Scottish man, whose wife always insisted I call her “Auntie Mary”). I had not thought of these people in years.
Of course, of the three of us working on the project (myself, my boss, my coworker), I was the only one who had any personal interest in the office or the papers. My fascination with the room was not why we were archiving certain of Mr. Spruch’s documents. His work on Casimir Interactions (to take one example from his career) is worth keeping so that future physicists can look it up. And perhaps someday, social historians will want to re-create a physicist’s office just so that people can see what such an office looks like. As an archivist, I’m sympathetic to these goals, though, in this particular instance, they’re only passingly important to me.
From my perspective, Spruch’s office functioned more like a community center, or a 3-D scrapbook. The office hammered home how abnormal my formative years had been. It was good to stumble across it again — there’s a lot of fun and perspective in such coincidences. Plus, there’s a sense of community and pride — particularly pleasurable was when I called up my dad a few days later and asked him if he knew of some guy named Larry Spruch.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he said, “I definitely do. Actually, he died recently…”
My response: “Yes, I know.”
Alexander Fritz Starace
2509 27th Street
Astoria, NY 11102
How to Solve Global Warming
We must get serious about using technology wisely, or humankind will not pull through the technology transition that began with the industrial age.
The clearest example is global warming — our biggest challenge to date. We can no longer prevent it, but there’s still time to ward off its worst consequences. This will be neither cheap nor easy, but it’s doable. Britain's authoritative Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change states that global warming can be addressed adequately for less than one percent of global domestic product every year, while if not addressed adequately it will cost 20 percent of world GDP and be as devastating as World War II. We can afford to address the problem, but we can’t afford not to.
What must we do? Global temperatures have already risen 1.35 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. NASA’s global warming expert James Hansen estimates that another 2 degrees of warming will bring us to a tipping point beyond which irreversible polar ice cap melting begins, and 1.25 degrees of that is already “in the pipeline” because of the delayed effects of the global warming pollutants already in the atmosphere. The margin of error is thin.
To prevent disaster, Hansen and others calculate that we must hold atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to less than 450 molecules per million air molecules (450 ppm). Since 1900, fossil fuels and forest clearing have driven concentrations upward from 280 to 380 ppm, and rising at 18 ppm every decade. So another 3 decades of “business as usual” could get us in big trouble.
The best summary of solutions I’ve seen comes from Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, leaders of the carbon mitigation initiative at Princeton University, where Socolow is a mechanical engineering professor and Pacala an ecology professor. They offer 15 global strategies, called “wedges,” for reducing carbon emissions during the next 50 years, any 10 of which would suffice. Here are the strategies, grouped under 5 larger categories.
Efficiency and conservation: Increase the fuel economy of 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg; drive 2 billion cars not 10,000 but 5,000 miles a year; cut electricity use in buildings by 25 percent.
Power generation: Raise the efficiency at 1,600 large coal-fired plants from 40 to 60 percent; replace 1,400 large coal-fired plants with gas-fired plants.
Carbon sequestration (coal plants pumping their carbon dioxide emissions into underground storage): Install sequestration at 800 large coal-fired plants; install sequestration at coal plants that produce hydrogen for 1.5 billion vehicles; install sequestration at coal-to-liquid fuel plants.
Alternative energy sources: Increase nuclear power threefold to displace coal; increase wind power 40-fold to displace coal; increase solar power (photovoltaics, solar-thermal electricity generation) 700-fold to displace coal; increase wind power 80-fold to make hydrogen for zero-emission cars; drive 2 billion cars on ethanol.
Agriculture and forestry: stop all deforestation; practice “conservation tillage” (seeds are drilled into the ground without plowing) and other actions that conserve soil carbon.
None of these are easy, but all are technically and financially feasible. Any ten “wedges” would suffice.
We could accomplish many of these wedges simply by practicing what many of us regard as the first principle of environmental economics: Technologies must incorporate environmental “externalities” into their own balance sheets. Here’s a local example: The Southwestern Electric Power Company should not be allowed to freely exploit Fayetteville’s scenic beauty with their proposed giant electric poles. Swepco should bury the lines, and they and their customers should bear the financial burden.
What can you do? Here are a few suggestions: Have at least one car-free day every week (the car is most people’s biggest energy consumer, by far), walk to work, bicycle to work, live near your work, buy a fuel-efficient car, car-pool, support higher gasoline taxes, question the "need" for new roads, avoid car-oriented big-box stores, oppose I-540 widening, support mass transit, support a regional train, support sidewalks and trails, support higher impact fees, support compact communities, support infill, oppose unsequestered coal plants, conserve electricity, conserve paper, conserve water, use compact fluorescents, insulate your home, live in a small house, stop at two children, support family planning, teach environmentalism to your children, recycle, generate less trash, don't litter, criticize people who litter, pick up other people's litter, buy less stuff, buy stuff that's durable and repairable, don’t buy over-packaged stuff, don't waste stuff, eat low on the food chain, eat less, buy organic products, take a cloth bag to the store, patronize the Farmers' Market, buy local and regional products, and follow the serious (not celebrity) news. There are many more. Nobody does them all, but do some of them and add more as time goes by.
It all comes down to one thing you need to do: Develop an attitude of thoughtfulness — reverence — toward our planet.
These little actions go a long way. For instance, if every American home replaced just ten light bulbs with compact fluorescents, each person would save $300 in energy costs and more importantly our nation would prevent carbon emissions equivalent to 8 million automobiles.
Support the McCain-Obama-Lieberman national plan to reduce emissions by two-thirds by 2050. Support the Arkansas bill to establish the “Governor’s Commission on Global Warming,” the first global warming legislation ever proposed in Arkansas. Arkansas is one of only two states (along with South Carolina) that presently has no official state activity regarding global warming.
The world can solve this problem. But neither business as usual nor politics as usual will do. It’s time for each of us to get involved.
Reprinted from Art Hobson’s regular column in the Northwest Arkansas Times of Fayetteville
© NWA Times 17 Mar 2007