IEEE Milestones Honor Three

IEEE honors three groundbreaking inventions in the electronics industry this month

6 October 2009

IEEE honors three groundbreaking inventions in the electronics industry this month—including one that could be said to have ushered in the second industrial revolution—and a research center that spawned numerous developments in electrical engineering and computing.

The IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing are being awarded for Jack S. Kilby’s integrated circuit, the Speak & Spell educational toy, the class of materials known as ferrites, and the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

On 12 September 1958, Kilby, an IEEE Fellow, demonstrated the first working IC to his managers at Texas Instruments. It was the first time discrete electronic components were integrated onto a single substrate, and the IC went on to revolutionize the electronics industry. Kilby’s device consisted of a phase shift oscillator on a tiny bar of germanium. IEEE Fellow Robert Noyce, cofounder of Fairchild Semiconductor Corp., also invented the IC during the same time period and was honored with an IEEE Milestone in May.

The IC was so important because it was the answer to a seemingly intractable technological problem known as the “tyranny of numbers.” At the time, the recently invented transistor had inspired engineers to design ever-more complex circuits so that electronic equipment contained hundreds or thousands of components, including transistors, diodes, rectifiers, and capacitors. The components had to be interconnected to form circuits, and the hand-soldering of thousands of components to thousands of bits of wire was time-consuming, expensive, and unreliable. The IC placed the components onto a single crystal—or chip—made of semiconductor material.

The IC soon became the core of commercial and consumer electronics, making its way into medical equipment, household appliances, personal computers, cellphones, cars, and even musical greeting cards.

At a Milestone ceremony scheduled for 15 October at Texas Instruments in Dallas, a plaque is to be placed in the lab where the IC was unveiled. The inscription reads:

“On 12 September 1958, Jack S. Kilby demonstrated the first working integrated circuit to managers at Texas Instruments. This was the first time electronic components were integrated onto a single substrate. This seminal device consisted of a phase shift oscillator circuit on a tiny bar of germanium measuring 7/16” by 1/16” (11.1 millimeters by 1.6 mm). Today, integrated circuits are the fundamental building blocks of virtually all electronic equipment.”

The IC and Texas Instruments also were involved in the next IEEE Milestone: Speak & Spell, an educational toy that relied on speech recognition and speech generation to teach children the basic principles of reading, math, and other subjects. It was an important invention because it was the first use of a digital signal processing IC for both generating and recognizing speech.

In 1976, Richard Wiggins, a researcher at the Texas Instruments lab in Dallas, demonstrated a computer simulation of Speak & Spell to his colleagues. Two years later, he and three other researchers—Paul Breedlove, Larry Brantingham, and Gene Frantz—developed the Speak & Spell hardware. The toy used the industry’s first digital signal processing chip, the TMS5100.

The Speak & Spell also marked the first time the human vocal tract had been electronically duplicated on a single chip of silicon with signal processing techniques. The toy was manufactured in several languages.

A ceremony recognizing the Milestone is slated to be held in conjunction with the Kilby IC Milestone at TI. A plaque, to be mounted where the first chip used for the product was made, says:

“In December 1976, Richard Wiggins demonstrated the Speak & Spell concept to Paul Breedlove, Larry Brantingham and Gene Frantz in Texas Instruments’ Dallas research laboratory. This group led the team that created Speak & Spell in April 1978. The key device was the industry’s first digital signal processing integrated processor, the TMS5100. This innovation in audio processing began the huge digital signal processing consumer market.”

The third Milestone honors ferrites, invented by professors Yogoro Kato and Takeshi Takei in 1930 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Ferrites are a group of materials based on iron oxide that have magnetic and dielectric properties. They are made by pressing together iron oxide powders under high heat and are then molded into a variety of sizes and shapes using ceramic or rubber matrix forms. Ferrites are used as cores for inductors and transformers, and are found in many electronic devices.

Kato and Takei received a Japanese patent for ferrite cores in 1932. A few years later the two made a deal with entrepreneur Kenzo Saito, who went on to found Tokyo Denki Kagaku Kogyo (now TDK Corp.) in 1935 to commercialize ferrite cores. Working with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, TDK developed different types of ferrites. In 1937 it began mass-producing cores, most of which were used in oscillators, mixers, and the intermediate-frequency transformers of military radios. TDK later developed ferrites that were used in radio and TV receivers and in direction-finding antennas for aircraft.

A Milestone ceremony is scheduled for 13 October at Ferrite Hall on the Okayama campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The plaque has the following inscription:

“In 1930, at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Drs. Yogoro Kato and Takeshi Takei invented ferrite, a magnetic ceramic compound containing oxides of iron and of other metals with properties useful in electronics. TDK Corporation began mass production of ferrite cores in 1937 for use in radio equipment. The electric and electronics industries use ferrites in numerous applications today.”

The last of the most recent Milestones recognizes the seminal breakthroughs that took place from 1960 to 1984 at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Founded in 1945 at Columbia University as the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, it was moved to Yorktown Heights, N.Y., in 1957 and was renamed in honor of Thomas J. Watson Sr. and his son Thomas J. Watson Jr., who led IBM as president and CEO, respectively. The research center is divided among three sites: The main laboratory is in Yorktown Heights, another laboratory is in Hawthorne, N.Y., and offices are Cambridge, Mass.

During the center’s first quarter century of operation, researchers made important discoveries in the semiconductor industry and computing that have been honored with IEEE awards and medals. This year’s Medal of Honor recipient, IEEE Life Fellow Robert Dennard, for example, was at the Watson Center in 1968 when he invented dynamic random access memory. DRAM allowed computers to have much more memory at a far cheaper price than had been possible, and it became the industry standard.

Another Watson researcher, Ralph Gomory, created a general theory of integer programming and its application to certain problems in discrete optimization. Integer programming is used for such optimization problems as airline scheduling, inventory management, and military logistics. He also developed techniques for solving certain classes of very large linear programming problems that had been believed to be intractable because of their enormous size. The techniques are now used in dealing with mixed integer-noninteger problems. Gomory was honored for his work with the 1988 National Medal of Science, and he was named an IEEE honorary member in 1994.

A ceremony to recognize those and other achievements spawned at the research center is scheduled for 16 October at the Yorktown Heights building. The Milestone plaque, to be mounted inside the main entrance of the original research center building, states:

“In its first quarter century, the Watson Research Center produced numerous seminal advances having sustained worldwide impact in electrical engineering and computing. Semiconductor device innovations include dynamic random access memory (DRAM), superlattice crystals, and field effect transistor (FET) scaling laws. Computing innovations include reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture, integer programming, amorphous magnetic films for optical storage technology, and thin-film magnetic recording heads.”

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