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The Integrated Circuit was First Described 60 Years Ago Today

Sixty years ago today the integrated circuit was first described Geoffrey Dummer.

Who? Yeah, that’s what we said.

But a quick look into history shows that by all rights, Dummer likely had more practical knowledge that would lead to this world-changing event than probably anyone else of his time.

Dummer, who is known in engineering circles as “The Prophet of the Integrated Circuit,” was born in the township of Hull in Yorkshire, England in February of 1909 and studied electrical engineering at Regent Polytechnic in London and Manchester College of Technology in the 1930s. His first job was with Mullard Radio Valve Company in 1931 examining defective valves.  In 1935 he began working on cathode ray tubes and circuits. He joined the Ministry of Defence in 1939 as a Technical Officer at the Air Ministry Research Establishment in Malvern for a group was responsible for the first plane position indicator, or radar screen, ever built.

In 1942 Dummer started a Synthetic Trainer Design Group, responsible for the design, manufacture  and servicing of radar training equipment during the war. In 1943 he visited the USA and Canada to advise on trainers and to help set up similar training devices in the USA. After the war, he was awarded the MBE or Member of the British Empire for his work on ground-based aircraft detection training.

His search for more reliable components let him in 1944 to become Divisional Leader of the Physical & Tropical Testing Laboratories and the Component Group, which placed contracts with industry for new components and materials. Together with Dr A. C. Vivian he made the first plastic potted circuit in January 1947 to protect components from shock and moisture. They also explored printed wiring and etching techniques, both of which were the precursor to today’s lithographic systems, the most important tools in semiconductor manufacturing.

On May 7, 1952 Geoffrey Dummer read a paper called “Electronic Components in Great Britain” at the US Symposium on Quality in Electronic Components in Washington, DC. (The proceedings had been published a day earlier.)  As reported in Electronic Product News, at the end of the paper he concluded:

“With the advent of the transistor and the work on semi-conductors generally, it now seems possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires, The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electronic functions being connected directly by cutting out areas of the various layers”.

This is now generally regarded as the first public description of an integrated circuit.

Dummer later recalled, “It seemed so logical to me; we had been working on smaller and smaller components, improving reliability as well as size reduction. I thought the only way we could ever attain our aim was in the form of a solid block. You then do away with all your contact problems, and you have a small circuit with high reliability. And that is why I went on with it. I shook the industry to the bone.”

In September 1957, Dummer actually presented a model to illustrate the solid-circuit —a flip-flop in the form of a solid block of semiconductor material, suitably doped and shaped to form four transistors. Four resistors were represented by silicon bridges, and other resistors and capacitors were deposited in film form directly onto the silicon block with intervening insulating films.

But despite numerous attempts to turn his idea into reality, Dummer was beat to the punch in 1958 by Robert Noyce and Jean Hoerni, whose planar process turned the ideas of fellow IC pioneer Jack Kilby into a manufacturable product.

Dummer sought British investment in IC development, but despite numerous attampts to realize this dream, the British military failed to see the significance of the development.

Still, Dummer passed away 10 years ago at the age of 93, having seen his prophecy radically change the world for half a century.

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One comment on “The Integrated Circuit was First Described 60 Years Ago Today

  1. Pingback: SiliconCowboy’s Best Blog Posts of 2012 « Siliconcowboy's Blog

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