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The EE Dept. obviously got off to a good start when it was initiated by Royal W. Sorensen, who put his stamp on it.

I am looking forward to the centenial celebration.

--Jerry Delson, First Sorensen Fellow


Caltech is always proud of of its contribution to the the electronics revolution through Gordon Moore and Carver Mead, two incredible pioneers. However, there were three more Caltech-related individuals who played even a more major role in the history of semiconductor, who rarely got mentioned. One is William Shockley, who was probably the single most important contributor to the the development of transistors and ICs. Shockley was a physics graduate from Caltech (BS). He was also a visiting professor in 1954. The second individual was Arnold Beckman. Shockley made friend with Beckman when both were at Caltech. Later when Shockley wanted to start a transistor business, Beckman invested $1.0M in 1955 to get it started, which turned out to be the seed of Silicon Valley. The third individual was Jean Hoerni, who was a post-doc in theoretical physics at Caltech when he met Shockley in 1954. Shockley later recruited him to join Shockley Transistor Lab. Jean Hoerni was responsible for the "Planar Process", which was the foundation for all IC's made today. Those three individuals should be recognized in this EE Centennial, If you need more information, please contact me.

--Derek Cheung, PhD


I had thought I was the first PhD from EE getting his PhD in "Computer Science" - a term that wasn't used at the time - 1956. But as a grad student there starting in 1951 under Stan Frankel as his first PhD student working on digital computers (McCann didn't like or trust digital computers), and there having been no one else there yet, that was/is my opinion. My classmate Dale Scarborough was a circuits PhD also 1956; my thesis was a special purpose computer that computed the complex roots of complex polynomials up to degree 22. But the 2 of us were the only PhD students prior to 1957 that I knew of. I came to CalTech in 1951 as the Howard Hughes Fellow in EE and worked with Frankel as his first grad student there. At Hughes then, I worked with Eldred Nelson doing the logic design on the MX1179 digital fire control and navigation computer that went into production later in the F101.

--Robert Royce (Bob) Johnson


My brother and my expèrieces at Caltech as undergraduates and graduate students at CalTech from 1960 to 1966 were to play a key role in our subsequent careers. My exposure to the fundamental physics of quantum electrodynamics, including both classroom instruction and my informal, but equally important discussions with upperclassman, peers and the faculty visitors to my undergraduate student house together with the personal guidance provided by my graduate advisor Amnon Yariv were to prove the key to the subsequent invention, demonstration and development of free electron lasers.

The experience I gained in those years was, I think, uniquely available at Caltech by virtue of the unsurpassed quality of its students and faculty, and the commitment of the Institute to student education and mentoring. I have attempted to set this experience into the context of my prior interests and subsequent contributions in the article below.

In a different but perhaps technically more important line of development, my brother Julius was to go on to employ his expertise in wireless and computer technology in the development of the EazyPass wireless toll collection system for the NY State Thruway authority, now in widespread use across the United States as well as in Europe.

--John Madey


Thanks to Derek Cheung for telling the Beckman/Shockley story and adding the piece about Jean Hoerni. Based on this and what I plan to add, Caltech could make the claim that it started Silicon Valley. It turns out that Shockley was a difficult person to work for or with. In 1957 a group of employees began to meet privately to discuss what they could do. They confronted Beckman, who tried for a while to replace Shockley, but ultimately couldn't. The "Traitorous Eight" (which included Gordon Moore and Jean Hoerni) left and started Fairchild Semiconductor. In 1968 Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce (another of the Traitorous Eight) left Fairchild to start Intel. As an aside, Art Rock, Caltech trustee, helped them with the financing to start both Fairchild and Intel.

The Intel success story is well-known and Caltech had a significant role here as well. In the late 90s there were more alumni from Caltech who were officers (Gordon Moore, Bill Davidow, Gerry Parker, Albert Yu, and myself) than any other school. Not bad for our size.

I was fortunate that Carver Mead, my advisor, introduced me to Gordon Moore, then the Director of R&D at Fairchild who was recruiting on campus. He gave an orientation to a half dozen of us in a conference room in Spaulding. The activity at Fairchild was fascinating to me. Gordon said, "If you're looking to go to work, call this number and come and see us." I went for interviews (one of them was with Andy Grove -- a little daunting) and ended up going to work for them. I don't think I ever prepared a resume. Two years later in 1968, after meeting with Gordon Moore and Andy Grove for lunch, I went to work at Intel as the 22nd employee in Pasadena. It was a ZnS light emitting diode project with Carver, and another Caltech professor, Jim McCaldin. I wrote more about the Intel startup in an entrepreneurial issue of Caltech News.

As in many fields, and even though Silicon Valley is half a state away, there's clear evidence that Caltech, through it's alumni, has played a disproportionate role.

--Ted Jenkins, BS Eng 1965, MS EE 1966


Living on the other side of the country, I can't make it to the centennial, but I will pass along a few recollections of my years as an EE undergraduate in Steele.

When I signed up as an engineering major, Nick George was assigned as my advisor, but I enlisted Hardy Martel as an informal advisor because I was interested in circuit design. Prof. Martel gave some of us lab space in the basement, where I spent some time in my junior and senior years fiddling around with electronics. My most vivid memory was the time when I heard a little pop, and turned to see the top of a transistor bounce away from the circuit I had been working on. The transistor was one that had been embedded in a molded black plastic housing a bit smaller than a pencil eraser, and I never figured out how I managed to make it explode, but there was no doubt it had. My career in electronics would go about the same way, although I never recognized the little pop that sent it bouncing across the floor.

In May of my junior year I realized that the summer job I had been offered by TRW was not going to happen because the contract that I was supposed to be working on was not coming through. Desparate to avoid spending another summer back home in New Jersey, I asked Prof. George if he knew of any summer jobs, and wound up on an NSF summer internship working in his holography lab. I was way over my head in holography, and wound up acting more like a lab assistant developing holographic plates, without ever catching on to the magic of holography. I browsed the little collection of trade magazines and staggered on into my senior year.

It took me a few years after graduating in 1969 to get any sense of direction. I was writing computer manuals for Honeywell, happily married but professionally miserable, when in 1974 I answered a tiny advertisement in the back of the Boston Globe. Laser Focus magazine -- one of the trade magazines I had seen years before in Steele -- was looking for a junior editor, and having actually worked in a Caltech laser lab got me in the door and hired. Thanks to my time in Steele, I finally found a career in writing about lasers, fiber optics, and other areas in science and technology.

-- Jeff Hecht, BS Engineering, 1969


 

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