Retrotechtacular: The Genesis of the Transistor

Few births are easy. Even fewer result in a Nobel Prize, and hardly any at all are the work of three men. This 1965 film from the AT&T archives is a retrospection on the birth of the transistor nine years after its creators, [Walter Brattain], [John Bardeen], and [William Shockley] received a Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery and implementation of the transistor effect.

The transistor is the result of the study of semiconductors such as germanium. Prior to the research that led directly to the transistor, it was known that the conductivity of semiconductors increases when their temperature is raised. The converse is true for metals such as tungsten. Semiconductor conductivity also increases when they are exposed to light. Another key to their discovery is that when a metal such as copper is in contact with a semiconductor, conductivity is less in one direction than the other. This particular property was exploited in early radio technology as seen in crystal radios, for copper oxide rectifiers used in telephony, and for microwave radar in WWII.

After WWII, AT&T’s Bell Labs put a lot of time and research into the study of semiconductors, as their properties weren’t fully understood. Researchers focused on the simplest semiconductors, silicon and germanium, and did so in two areas: bulk properties and surface properties. During this time, [Shockley] proposed the field effect, supposing that the electrons near the surface of a semiconductor could be controlled under the influence of an external electric field.

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Building a germanium fuzz face guitar pedal

Rock in the new year with a guitar pedal you built yourself. [Doug Kovach] took the time to share his project with us in the video after the break. He starts with a bit of history of the artists that have used fuzz pedals similar to this one. It seems great guitarists have been hacking since way back. [Doug’s] rendition uses the warm sounds of germanium transistors in a design that produces professional results. But if you need something a little bit less serious try the stomp-box.

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Making Point Contact Transistors

[Jeri Ellsworth] is back at it again. We seem to cover her work a lot here. Her latest video above covers how she created a point contact transistor from a 1N34 germanium cat whisker diode. After opening the glass casing on the diode, she uses sharpened phosphor bronze metal from common electrical connectors as the collector and emitter. A 330 microfarad capacitor charged to 20 volts and then discharged though a 680 ohm resistor to the base and collector leads forms the collector region. Her test jig is a simple oscillator circuit such that a properly formed transistor will start the circuit oscillating and make and audible sound. We look forward to more esoteric knowledge of electronic devices being brought to our attention.