Texas Instruments Integrated Circuit

The chip that Jack built

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by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

Have you ever heard of Jack Kilby? This informal survey recently posed to Bullock Museum visitors drew blank stares and a steady chorus of, “I’ve never heard of him.” His name may not be recognizable, but his invention impacts virtually every moment of our lives. In fact, you are benefiting from Jack Kilby's technology as you read this article.

According to author T. R. Reid, who wrote the book, The Chip, “In the early '50s, you could design a computer that could do anything. You could design it, but you couldn’t build it. And the reason was that there were just too many separate parts that had to be wired together; the numbers of parts and connections were too great. The common name for this problem was 'the tyranny of numbers.' We can perceive of that device but we can’t build it because the numbers are too great.”

Jack Kilby (1923–2005) was an electrical engineer who joined Texas Instruments in the summer of 1958. Because he was a new employee and had not accumulated enough vacation time, he stayed in the office while the rest of his department took its annual two-week vacation in July.

While the office was deserted, Kilby studied how to effectively and efficiently reduce the numbers. Reid says, “Every computer of that time had miles and miles of wiring and Jack said, ‘Why do we need the wires? If I make the parts all out of the same material, I could just carve them into one block of that material and…no wires.’”

By inventing the integrated circuit (IC), now commonly called the microchip, Jack Kilby reduced the “tyranny of numbers” to one. Suddenly, engineers really could design a computer that could do anything. And they could build it small enough to fit in your pocket.

Jack Kilby's invention of the integrated circuit was the genesis of almost every electronic product used today. From cell phones, to modems, to Internet audio players, the chip has changed the world. Kilby received the Nobel Prize in Physics on December 10, 2000 for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit. To congratulate him, President Bill Clinton wrote, "You can take pride in the knowledge that your work will help to improve lives for generations to come."

The Bullock Museum has one of Kilby’s prototype microchips displayed on its third floor. “The IC that is on display at the Texas State History Museum is one of only six prototypes in existence,” says Andy Smith, Executive Director for the Texas Instruments Foundation. “TI is proud to loan this item to the museum for visitors to see the impact made on the world by the chip that Jack Kilby built.”

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Texas Instruments Integrated Circuit Artifact from Dallas, Texas
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