Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jack St. Clair Kilby - In Remembrance

Outside of the invention of the transistor and the microprocessor, the invention of the integrated circuit is one of the seminal electronic inventions of the 20th century. Two men are credited with inventing the integrated circuit, or IC, at essentially the same time: Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments. The invention of the IC led directly to the development and production of the microprocessor and other highly complex devices. And those devices have in turn driven contemporary society and shaped it in ways undreamed of even a century ago. While Jack Kilby stayed on with Texas Instruments, Robert Noyce went on to found Intel.

Jack Kilby passed away on June 20th in Dallas following a brief battle with cancer. He was 81. Texas Instruments has created a web site with more information.

Although I never met Jack Kilby or Robert Noyce, I certainly knew of them by name and reputation and I most certainly appreciated the products that sprang from their inventions. I first started to work with IC's while still in high school (1969) when I started to buy Fairchild RTL (Resister-Transistor-Logic) ICs at local electronics stores in Atlanta. The RTL ICs were supposed to be digital devices, but they were notoriously linear when properly biased, and I was using them as oscillators in some projects I built at the time. It was a few years later while in engineering school that I started to use TI 7400 series ICs (remember the big yellow TI IC catalogs?). Over the following years I worked with SSI (small-scale integration) on up to LSI (large-scale-integration), bit-slice, and eventually, the heir to the TTL IC, the microprocessor and gate array. And TI ICs weren't the only TI products I used. I was quite the TI-58 and TI-59 calculator fan boy. I purchased the TI-99/4A personal computer.

My professional engineering life began as a lowly junior engineer, responsible for etching PC boards, stuffing them, and then testing them after the parts had been machine soldered. As time progressed I was involved with designing systems using microprocessors, and the ICs were there as support circuitry or "glue logic", tying memory, peripherals, and microprocessor into a cohesive whole. I started writing assembly routines to test portions of the system, and eventually followed that path to where I write nothing but software today. I have, over the years, returned to my hardware roots and designed small microprocessor-driven boards for embedded use, following up with a kernel or other application software to perform specific tasks.

I will always remember that time in my life, I suppose with the same fondness that my dad looks back on his early career working with vacuum tube electronics. Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce made that part of my life, as well as my entire career, possible with their invention. He will be missed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are checked. Comment SPAM will be blocked and deleted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.