Avionics News May 2019 - 52

series
B Y

T H O M A S

I N M A N

Transistor
Revolution
I

n the mid-1930s, William Shockley, while employed
at American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in its Bell
Laboratories, began working out a theory for amplification using solid materials. After service in the Army Air
Corps during World War II, Shockley returned to Bell Labs
and continued to work on his theory. Shockley and fellow
Bell Labs employee, Walter Brattain, attempted to build solid
state-amplifiers, but failed. Shockley hired John Bardeen,
who had done research on semiconductors in the 1930s. In
December 1947, Bardeen and Brattain succeeded in building
a point-contact amplifying device by pushing tiny strips of
gold foil into a base of germanium. This device would start a
revolution in electronics.
Shockley took the lessons learned in developing the pointcontact device and designed a new device, which at the
microscopic level, looked like a tiny sandwich. Bell Labs
engineer John Pierce helped the team decide to call this new
device the bipolar transistor. In June 1948, Bell Labs announced the invention. Eventually, Shockley, Brattain and
Bardeen would be granted a Nobel Prize for their work.
Although today's bipolar transistor differs in shape and materials from the original, the names of the connections remain
the same. An emitter emits carriers into the base material,
and a collector collects carriers from the base material.
As this discussion continues, an important principle to
remember is that a small amount of current from emitter to
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2019

base will cause or control a larger amount of current from
emitter to collector. This is amplification. Bipolar transistors are current-controlled devices. This story will focus on
transistor characteristics in a DC environment. Later, we will
focus on transistor behavior in AC circuits.
Although single or discreet transistors aren't rare, engineers design fewer circuits using these devices. Modern design and manufacturing techniques allow engineers to design
integrated circuits containing thousands or millions of transistors. Today, we are likely to see individual transistors used
as switching devices, regulators or power amplifiers.

FIGURE 1: Simplified construction diagrams of bipolar
transistors with the associated schematic symbols below
and current direction at the bottom.
(Figure adapted from the AMT General Handbook)



Avionics News May 2019

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