First integrated circuit prototype in auction

Jack Kilby, inventor of the first IC

The first integrated circuit prototype is going for auction at Christie’s on June 19th in New York, expecting to sell for $2,000,000.00.

The auction house made public [PDF] that this item represents one of the most important advancements in the history of computing, a result of Jack Kilby’s investigation at Texas Instruments in 1958.

A Nobel Prize-winning artifact of computing history goes on sale at Christie’s New York on June 19: A prototype integrated circuit used by Jack Kilby (1923-2005) at Texas Instruments in 1958 to demonstrate his invention of the integrated circuit on a single chip.

Virtually the birth certificate of the modern computing era, this prototype helped spawn the microchip revolution. From the clock on a microwave oven, through tablets and laptops, to the Large Hadron Collider, microchips pervade the electronic devices we use on a daily basis.
Kilby’s work at Texas Instruments enabled further technological breakthroughs that dramatically reduced the size and cost of computing power.

Estimated at $1,000,000 – $2,000,000, this prototype integrated circuit was built between July 18 and September 12, 1958, of a doubly diffused germanium wafer with flying gold wire and four leads by Tom Yeargan (1920-2001), a member of the team that executed Kilby’s theories on how to bring miniaturization to the giant computers of the first half of the 20th century.
The chip is mounted on glass and enclosed in a plastic case belonging to Yeargan, with a label signed by Jack Kilby, and is accompanied by another prototype, a silicon circuit with five gold and platinum leads, and a three-page statement by Tom Yeargan on the chronology and building of the invention of the integrated circuit, dated March 6, 1964.

The lot is part of the Sale of ‘Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana’ in New York. The lot will be on view in London, May 22, 23, 27 and 28, at Christie’s galleries in South Kensington, before traveling to the U.S. for a viewing at Christie’s New York Rockefeller Center galleries, June 14 to 18.

Ever since electricity distribution was invented by Thomas Edison, circa 1880 – not electricity itself, which exists since the beginning of times – that it becomes difficult to think of a bigger impacting invention than the integrated circuit.

The IC, short for (monolithic) “Integrated Circuit” and often referred to as “chip” or “microchip”, is basically a wafer made of a semiconductor – a material with a lower electrical conductivity that of a conductor and higher that of an insulator – which performs a number of electronic functions simultaneously by having multiple components built in it, unlike discrete components, such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes or transistors, which have a single one.

The first Integrated Circuit

When, in 1958, Jack Kilby was pursuing the idea of miniaturising circuits, he thought of placing (and/or surface mounting) multiple circuit components on a single piece of semiconductor material.

Finally, on September 12 that year, the outcome of his work was presented to his management at Texas Instruments. The germanium wafer circuit was under an oscilloscope test and demonstrated the expected function of the circuit, a basic oscillator, which led to a patent application in early 1959, for “Miniaturized Electronic Circuits”.
This led to further research and the first breakthrough product which used the invention was the pocket calculator, something for which both Texas Instruments and Jack Kilby will always be known for.

As in several other electrical and electronic related research cases, the invention was highly disputed by various parties, on both a personal and enterprise level.
It is of some consensus that Jack Kilby, Robert Noyce, Geoffrey Dummer, Kurt Lehovec and Jean Hoerni played decisive roles in the process, but only Kilby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his part in “the invention of the integrated circuit“.

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