When we reflect on the many ways that technology has made our everyday lives easier, more efficient, more interesting, more comfortable and more enjoyable, it is likely difficult to pinpoint one specific thing that each of us would agree is the “most important” discovery of our lifetime. It would be hard to dispute, however, the rationale that the invention of the transistor is one of, if not the most important invention of the 20th century. Merriam Webster defines a transistor as a solid-state electronic device that is used to control the flow of electricity in electronic equipment and usually consists of a small block of a semiconductor with at least three electrodes. The invention of the transistor in 1947 propelled the world in an entirely new direction and was at the center of the global technology boom and began the information age. Because they can be mass-produced by the millions on a sliver of silicon or the semiconductor chip, transistors have fueled the development of many diverse devices like hearing aids, video cameras, cellular phones, copy machines, jumbo jets, modern cars, manufacturing components, and video games….and so much more. Without the invention of the transistor we would have no Internet, no broadcast communication and no space travel.
Today, 10 million transistors can be placed on the head of a pin! Consider this: the typical smartphone contains around 85 billion transistors!
According to Forbes Magazine, in 2014, semiconductor production facilities made some 250 billion billion (250 x 1018) transistors. Every second of that year, on average, 8 trillion transistors were produced. That figure is about 25 times the number of stars in the Milky Way and some 75 times the number of galaxies in the known universe.
We are fortunate to have Dr. Susan Fullerton from the University of Pittsburgh with us. She is working to find alternative materials and device concepts to push our current electronics to become even smaller and require less and less energy to work.