The Franklin Institute Logo
Case Files logo

Invention of the Point Contact Transistor, 1954

From Collegial Researcher to Covert Operator

At Bell Labs, Bardeen and Brattain worked under the direction of William Shockley. Prior to working together at Bell, Bardeen and Shockley both spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their time there overlapped from 1935 to 1936, while Bardeen was holding an appointment at Harvard University and Shockley was completing coursework at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both men got along well, and discussed their current research. When he was working on the development of the transistor a decade later, Bardeen would draw on the knowledge of semiconductor surface states he gained from Shockley.

Despite the camaraderie Shockley enjoyed with Bardeen and other members of his Bell Labs research team, he began to withdraw from his colleagues as the Point Contact Transistor approached completion. He worked on his own in the privacy of his home, emerging with the development of the Joint Transistor shortly after Bardeen and Brattain went public with their invention. All three men were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 for their investigations on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.

The Franklin Institute covered Medal Day proceedings in a journal article. The Institute Secretary mailed Bardeen and Brattain copies of the article appearing in the 'Journal of The Franklin Institute' prior to their own Medal Day. You can look over these letters by clicking on the thumbnails at right.