Who Was Robert Noyce And Why Was He So Important?

The man nicknamed “Mayor of Silicon Valley”, Robert Norton Noyce helped to build a technology that would ultimately change the face of electronics.

The child of a congregational minister, Robert was born on the 12th of December 1927 in Burlington, Iowa and spent his childhood days in Grinell of the same State. He attended Grinell College and got a degree with Physics as his major. He was a born leader, exhibiting extraordinary confidence in everything he did. Grant Gale, Noyces Physics professor in college, obtained two of the earliest transistors produced by Bell Labs. Gale showed these transistors to his class and Noyce became immediately interested in them. This event would eventually lead to the creation of the silicon chip or what we now call the microchip.

Noyce entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1948 for a Ph.D. and got it in 1953. After this he got involved on the development of the Germanium transistor during his stint at Philco Corporation as a research engineer. Noyce would eventually leave Philco and join Shockley Transistor Company to work in their semiconductor laboratory in 1956. This company was founded by William Shockley, a co-inventor of the transistor. It was in this company that Noyce began research on transistors using silicon.

However, Shockley and Noyce were not meant to be together for long as their scientific ideas and personalities collided. Unhappy with the company, Noyce and seven of his fellow researchers left in 1957 to establish their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor. Being the director for research and development of their newly established company, Noyce focused on methods to develop the compound circuit interconnections needed for advanced electronic devices. In 1959, he was able to merge all the components in one small block of silicon thus producing his own version of the integrated circuit. He consequently filed for a patent later that year but a lengthy legal battle with Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments soon followed. Kilby was the first to invent an integrated circuit; however, it was Noyce who eventually got the patent in 1969.

During that time, the electronics business was young and the invention of integrated circuits revolutionized the industry. Fairchild Semiconductor manufactured more integrated circuits than any other company. As Noyce had once done with Shockley, he left Fairchild in 1968 and brought along Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove to establish Intel Corporation. They concentrated their efforts in developing and producing silicon chips and microprocessors. Intel ultimately became the largest manufacturer of microchips in the world. It still is today.

In the latter part of 1970s, Noyce initiated some moves to uphold the electronics industry. He was at the forefront of setting up organizations such as Sematech – a group of fourteen semiconductor corporations with the goal of reinforcing the electronics industry to face foreign rivals. Robert Noyce died of a heart attack at the age of 62 in Austin, Texas. But his legacy will forever be etched on the face of microchips, not only in Silicon Valley but all over the world. A remarkable man.

Well we are a long way from the brilliance of Robert Noyce and we can’t repair his silicon chips. But we can repair the devices they are in and provide IT support in London.