CHAPTER 4
Silicon, Silicon, and yet
more Silicon

4.1 Precursor to the revolution

With the crucial advantage of hindsight, we are very well aware of the sea change consequent upon the invention of the transistor but it should not really surprise us to learn that those struggling to come to terms with it at the time were less readily persuaded. Yes, it was small and yes, it used far less power than the incumbent device (the thermionic valve) but there were disadvantages too. There was the problem of excess noise and the difficulty in producing devices which could amplify at high frequencies. Needless to say, in its early days, the transistor was seen essentially as a possible replacement for the valve— many of the companies taking part in its development were primarily valve (or, since they were mainly American companies such as RCA, GE, Sylvania, and Philco, tube) companies whose main business was, and continued to be for some considerable time, either valves or tubes. It is important to recognize that, though solid state circuitry was eventually to dominate the market, sales of valves did not even reach their peak until 1957 and showed little sign of serious decline until the late 1960s—the transistor might be an exciting technical advance but it was not at all obvious that it represented a major commercial investment. The possible exceptions were the small start-up companies, such as Texas Instruments (TI), Fairchild, Hughes, or Transitron, who carried none of the tube or valve baggage which encumbered the larger companies but they were, by definition, small and insignificant! They were, however, flexible and enterprising and it was from them that many of the important innovations in semiconductor technology were to come.

Technical innovation might be exciting and full to the brim with promise but, during the 1950s, the chief problem in transistor manufacture was one of reproducibility. We have already touched on the difficulty of controlling the base width in double-doped and alloyed structures which had a direct and crucial effect on cut-off frequency but there was the additional problem of encapsulation which frequently failed to stabilize the device against atmospheric pollution. Many manufacturers

-93-

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The Story of Semiconductors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • Chapter 1 - Perspectives 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Cat's Whiskers 19
  • Chapter 3 - Minority Rule 47
  • Chapter 4 - Silicon, Silicon, and Yet More Silicon 93
  • Chapter 5 - The Compound Challenge 149
  • Chapter 6 - Low Dimensional Structures 213
  • Chapter 7 - Let There Be Light 277
  • Chapter 8 - Communicating with Light 331
  • Chapter 9 - Semiconductors in the Infrared 385
  • Chapter 10 - Polycrystalline and Amorphous Semiconductors 447
  • Index 503
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