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Oral-History:Nick Holonyak

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About Nick Holonyak

Nick Holonyak is professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1950 and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, both from the University of Illinois. He was one of the first graduate students to work in John Bardeen's semiconductor laboratory when it began work in 1952. After completing his work at the University of Illinois, including two years in Bardeen's laboratory, Holonyak went on to work at Bell Laboratories with John Moll, where he and Moll made the first diffused silicon transistors and switches, metalecized silicon, and generally developed the technology behind the rise of Silicon Valley and today's chips. Before returning to the University of Illinois as a professor, Holonyak also served in the Army and worked at GE.


Roughly the first half of the interview centers on an article Holonyak and Moll have in progress, which aims to distinguish between the contributions made by John Bardeen andWalter Brattain and those made by William Shockley in the discovery of the bipolar transistor. Holonyak states that Bardeen and Brattain made the relevant experiments and that the original bipolar transistor patent is in Bardeen and Brattain's name. Shockley's particular application of injection was original to Shockley; but Holonyak argues that Shockley applied ideas originally developed by Bardeen and Brattain. Holonyak's primary concern is to give credit where it was due, and to demonstrate that specific people make specific contributions to projects; Holonyak indicates that he wants to teach his students and others that people, not environments, create ideas. The MSS. that Holonyak refers to throughout this section of the interview is a manuscript he submitted to Physics Today but which was published in Physics Today without the material on Shockley. Holonyak considers the MSS. to be a work-in-progress still, one he has jointly produced with John Moll. The second half of the interview focuses on Holonyak's immigrant background, his early education at Edwardsville High School, his academic career at the University of Illinois, and the work he did with Bardeen at Bardeen's semiconductor laboratory and the work he did with John Moll at Bell Laboratories. He mentions briefly his work with the Army and describes in more detail the work he did at GE, including work with the controlled rectifier and with red LED. The interview concludes with Holonyak speaking warmly of his students' progress and achievements. He declares that much work remains to be done in the field of electronics and hopes that young engineers will continue that work.


About the Interview

NICK HOLONYAK: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 22 June 1993



Interview #166 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Nick Holonyak, an oral history conducted in 1993 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Nick Holonyak
INTERVIEWER: Frederik Nebeker
PLACE: University of Illinois
DATE: 22 June 1993

"John Bardeen and the Point Contact Transistor" article

Nebeker:

This is Rik Nebeker talking with Nick Holonyak. You were telling me that you wrote "John Bardeen and the Point Contact Transistor" for Physics Today (April, 1992).


Holonyak:

No, I didn't write it for Physics Today. It was June of 1991, and who knew all the things that were going to happen the previous year, that year, and even later? Earlier in 1991 Bardeen died. Then shortly after Bardeen died, my doctor tells me that I've got a malignancy in my prostate and we've got to do something about it. So I elected surgery, and in the business of going through the surgery, that fact said to me: This is about the fifth surgery. Watch out. We come and we go. I knew that I had inside information on several areas of work, and John in particular. So I decided I had better write some of the things that I knew about Bardeen. For example, one of the things that I knew, happened right here in the lab on the bench, John walked in and he asked me if I had seen Electronics Magazine (April 17, 1980), and I said, "No." One of the grad students was standing nearby, and I sent him across the street (to our main building). The young man came back with the Electronics Magazine, and John and I were thumbing through it. And then he “hit” the famous picture. He “hit” the famous picture of Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley. He was only as far away as you are, and he said to me, "Boy, Walter really hates this picture." I said to him at the time, "Why? Isn't it flattering?" That's when he made this face at me, and shook his head, and, see, he knew that I knew Walter as "Walter". I think he was bothered by the fact that I ought to know what Walter's like, and certainly not anything about flattery. That's when he said to me, "No. That's Walter's apparatus, that's our experiment, and there's Bill sitting there, and Bill didn't have anything to do with it." You're not going to get Bardeen to come to a meeting like our ASEE Talk yesterday and begin to tell you about all the personalities, and all the things that happened, and whatnot. What John meant right then was very simple: Shockley didn't have a damn thing to do with that experiment and with the basic discovery of the bipolar transistor. And incidentally, some issues came up on patents later. The original bipolar transistor patent is in Bardeen and Brattain's names. Shockley's name isn't on that. What Shockley did came later, see. And I had accumulated a piece here, a piece there, various pieces of this "thing", and I knew--and Bardeen knew that I knew--that the "thing" (transistor) was not invented coequally. So I felt I've got to put some of this down because people like you and others are going to want to know later.


Dividing credit for the bipolar transistor

Holonyak:

If a lawyer took you to court, and let's say we've got three names on a patent, the way he's going to attack that patent is to go find which person is the weak link on the patent that didn't have a helluva lot to do with it. Then after he manages to pry into that, then he's got the case going about who did what and whether it was really everybody contributing. Then, if he can attack it in one place, he'll find and he'll try to demolish the whole thing by finding the weak link in there.

So a lawyer can look at this and say, well, let's see. There's three people there. Now, let's look at these three people, and let's see how they were doing things. You mean to tell me that those three "guys" were working together on a daily basis in such a way that by the time you untangled it, you couldn't untangle the fact that there was somebody that had the key idea and whatnot? That's not correct. Now, I'm sure if you go to Murray Hill and say, okay, let's talk about those people, they'll give you a run-around. They're going to say: Well, yeah, we've got some stuff in the archives. But you can't talk to so-and-so anymore; he's retired. And you can't talk to so-and-so anymore because he's dead. And on and on and on. And all the people you're going to find are essentially young people who don't know and don't care. And have bought the story that was useful to Bell, which was that the transistor came from Bell. Now, I'm not speaking now about whether all three people deserved the Nobel Prize. I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about how the hell did they arrive at the ideas for a transistor?

So I wrote this article knowing that we're finite, and that we can be dead next week. And what about this inside information? When John told me this little thing (the picture), I wasn't going to say, John, stop! Let me get the notebook out and write this down. He'd have probably turned his back on me and walked away. What I did was, I said, "Please sign the picture." Which he did. And I knew that that was going to be a memory "thing"(an aid) that would tell me forever, as long as I'm able to be here, that's what happened in that particular incident. And I have that sitting right over there in the pile. I want to show it (The Electronics Magazine picture Bardeen signed!) to you before you leave.


Nebeker:

For the record, that was the 50th anniversary issue (Spring 1980) of Electronics Magazine.


Holonyak:

Yes. Which, as I said, is sitting here, and I want you to look at it before you go. Now, what I did was I had our photographer, the same guy that made the slides I showed yesterday (ASEE Talk), shoot that picture right out of there (Electronics Magazine) because that was my lead figure in that (1991) article that I wrote. Then I sent it to Physics Today. See, Physics Today L.I.R., the issue contributing a Bardeen article) is later in 1991. I'd written what I wanted to say, which was this "thing" (first manuscript) I'm going to give you, which is "The Inventor of the Transistor and the Beginning of Modern Electronics: John Bardeen and the Point-Contact Transistor." I wrote this cover letter because Physics Today contacted me. I sent Gloria Lubkin (Physics Today, September) this manuscript. She proceeded to send it around, as I knew she would. Now, I'll apologize for one thing in this manuscript. I went off on a few tangents because when I'd “hit” certain things, I'd go off on that tangent a bit, and on some other tangents. And I could have understood them refereeing it and then coming back at me, and then saying, Gee, Nick, we liked it. Trim it down a little bit and remove those digressions. But I didn't appreciate them going beyond that. I told her that I wouldn't be interested in them meddling with it very much. But they did. See, I said here: "John Bardeen being John Bardeen, never talked about himself. He wasn't puffed up and vain. Nor was he, however, a patsy and willing to be run over. Some of our conversations were very, very sensitive, and he knew that I knew the transistor was not invented coequally. That is not primarily my message, however, as much as it is an attempt, more like a duty, to tell about John, the kind of material that most people can't know except an insider who has had more than normal access to a giant of science and technology." You can read some of this later. But what she did was she sent it around then to various people, and I don't know who all saw it, but John Moll called me one day about it. And he says, "Boy, you've got some real powerful stuff in there." And I said, "Hell yes, John. There's some powerful stuff in there. When you're contemplating your mortality and you could die, you tell what you know."


Nebeker:

And what was surprising to most people was that you were saying was that first of all, it wasn't Shockley.


Holonyak:

No, it wasn't Shockley.


Nebeker:

That it was Bardeen who was mainly the idea man?


Holonyak:

Right. You see it was Bardeen who had the depth. And in fact I told you yesterday that Walter gave a talk here when I was a student, and he referred to a Bardeen and Brattain paper, and he said, "Every time I read that paper, I learn something." See, it was clear-- I watched Brattain come here when I was in Bardeen's lab, and talking with John and what would happen, and how they would work and whatnot. And it was Bardeen that was constantly sorting out the data. Bardeen wasn't an experimentalist, but he did want to see the data. And he would walk up and look at you making the measurement, and actually see you making the measurement, and see how you did the measurement, and see what the numbers were and all that. Bardeen worked from reality. He didn't like to write empty theory based on just notions and whatnot.

Right here where we're sitting--I'm going to interrupt myself--all this I'm going to say based on how time works, because I'll screw it up otherwise. At least eight years ago, maybe something like ten years ago, he called me just about this time of day. And he said he had these important visitors from the Japanese Sharp Company and a vice president and some aide to the vice president and whatnot. Am I in and could they visit and what not? I said "sure". And, see, what I thought--and maybe that's what Bardeen thought--was that they were going to come in, and we'd talk about some recent work. They came in and we sat here. I didn't have this extra table here, and we sat here, and there wasn't as much paper around. This little "guy", the vice president, wanted to know from Bardeen how the transistor was done. He didn't want to talk about new "stuff". He wanted to hear from the "man" (Bardeen) himself how they did that (the transistor). So Bardeen was sitting maybe about where you are, somewhere right in around here. And I think I had some chairs here where the guests were, and I was over here someplace. And he (Bardeen) looked off like into space. Where you are right now, he just sort of stared over there, and he got a funny look on his face. The translator was better with English than the vice president, and at one place the vice president said to him (Bardeen), "What was your habit of working with theorists? And which theorists did you get most from in your discussions concerning that kind of work? Who did you prefer to work with?" Something to that effect. Bardeen had a “funny look” on his face and a grin, a sort of a smile, and he said, "I don't generally work with theorists. I like to work with experimentalists and like to see the data, the facts themselves." In other words, what this "guy" was finding out was John wasn't really learning about the stuff pertinent to the transistor from Shockley or anybody. He was learning that from his discussions with Pearson who was an experimentalist in the office, and with Walter who was in the office. I knew all this. So I put all of this into the first version of my Bardeen manuscript.


Nebeker:

That version is particularly misleading because you have Shockley looking in the picture like he's the prime innovator or transistor discoverer.


Holonyak:

And that's what John said. That's what was irritating to Brattain. Brattain didn't have any use for Shockley. Brattain told me that himself. We're sitting at Bookbinder's at a dinner, and we're all strung out along a table in Philadelphia there at this restaurant. I'm sitting here, Wally Leverton is sitting here (from Raytheon), and Walter Brattain is sitting here, and I don't know who was sitting here, and Bill Shockley was sitting here. This is June of 1955. The rumor was that Shockley was going to set up a company because he was basically irritated at other people who were getting fame and fortune from the transistor, and not he, the great Bill Shockley. So we all knew that, and he at some point jumped up--this was a long table--and he jumped up and went to a round table over there where there were some other people. There were a lot of Bell Labs people at Bookfinder’s. A lot of us had gone to that meeting, the 1955 Device Research Conference. And Walter had these half glasses, and he leaned behind Walter Leverton, and he looked at me over his glasses, over the back of the chair, and he says, "Is he gone?" He didn't say, Is Bill gone? Or is Shockley gone? He said, "Is 'he' gone?" And I nodded. Brattain knew me, and he knew me from here (Illinois), and he knew me from being down the hall from him, and every now and then at Bell Labs he'd say, "Come here! I want to talk to you." He knew I was John's student, and "Come here! I want to talk to you." So I said, yes. I nodded. Then he tells me the story of how he and Bardeen were getting a prize in Philadelphia. I think it was probably the John Scott Medal. I don't think it was the Franklin Medal. The reason I say that is that it was exactly 20 years later I got it, and I felt good about it, because getting something that my predecessor had gotten, my mentor. It was somewhere in and around after Bardeen had already come here (the University of Illinois). What happened was Walter had gotten ahold of Bardeen and said, "We've got to have a party. Get a prize like that, you give a party." And he got no response. So later I don't know if he called him or wrote him, and he still gets no response. He (Brattain) was getting irritated, and Walter was very voluble, and he says, "I called him again, and I said, 'God damn it, John! The only guy that's gotten any awards and hasn't given any party and whatnot is Bill Shockley.' And "Immediately the response was, 'Good idea. We've got to have a party.'" [Laughter]

Later I told this to Jane Bardeen, and she said, "Well, there is a difference. John's attitude was, well, if you got something, you're lucky, and it's nice, and all that. Why make such a big stir about it? But it is different when the only person who's been oblivious to that has been Bill Shockley." See, the Bardeens were not in a habit of saying anything derogatory or negative about Shockley. John was not the kind of "guy" that “boosted” John Bardeen by making demeaning statements about someone else. And it was very interesting to see this behavior when Shockley died. Because he called me about that, and we had an extensive, about two-day, "back" and “forth” on that because the IEEE wanted him to write an "obit", and John wouldn't do it. He felt that he'd been out of contact with Shockley for a long time. But then whoever did it sent a fax to Bardeen. Bardeen called me. I went over to his office, and he wanted me to take it home and read it, and I did. I went into my copy (EE435, 1952) of Shockley's book, and I read the preface again and all the other stuff. Then I came over to Bardeen's office the next day, and we had a long talk about it. He wanted that "thing" (the obit) to very carefully indicate the kind of positive things that Shockley had done, which were about that Shockley that everybody knew; that he was ingenious, inventive, and so forth, and had made contributions.
The thing that I'm going after (talking or writing) is a different thing. I'm saying, Okay, people. Make damned sure you understand that something preceded Shockley. What preceded him was the discovery of injection and the basic bipolar idea and all that. Shockley rendered it then a second way, which turned out to be very practical and useful and whatnot, and the world doted on him for all that kind of stuff. And then even began to confuse where all this came from. But it didn't come out of his head, the notion of injection. In fact later, after some of this stuff was all published (my Physics Today article), Ray Warner wrote to me, and he says--I don't know where he got the story--that Shockley at first didn't want to believe that the injection phenomenon went on. But then of course when he accepted that, then being the person he was and as inventive as he was, he worked out the p-n junction theory.

Now, I know something interesting about that also. Shortly after I was elected to the Academy of Science, right around Thanksgiving, it must have been about '85, '86, somewhere along in there, Drickamer who's a high-pressure scientist here, called me up, and he says, "Are you folks doing anything? We're having a little dinner, and the Bardeens are going to be there. We've got room for another couple. How about you and Kay coming?" I said, "Sure." So somewhere in there, Bardeen was sitting on the couch, and I was sitting like this, and we're talking, and we somehow or another got on this subject (the transistor). And Bardeen, that one time, said something I'd never heard anywhere else. He said that he and Brattain had gotten to the point where they had done all the experiments (point contact transistor studies) they wanted to do and were about ready to turn to the p-n junction, and found that Shockley already had that "tied up" with the patent attorney. That Shockley had already "jumped on it". Because, you know, if you're a scientist and you look at this, you could say, well look, if Bardeen and Brattain conjured up the bipolar transistor, and the first version of it was the point-contact, type A transistor, and they've done some of the work on this and whatnot, and they're ready to go look at p-n junctions--which were known (p-n junctions were known; what wasn't known was injection)--why wouldn't they then go and do the next part? Why wouldn't the other people get the hell out of the way and realize that this is Bardeen and Brattain's territory? They're the ones that came up with this, and they had the right to go do the next experiment. Why someone else? They were ready to go do the next part after I don't know whether, it was a month or something like that. And found out that Shockley had already "tied" that up with a patent attorney. Shockley had come in to what they had been doing at that point. He wasn't stupid; he was smart. And he was very able. And it's correct that he did work out p-n junction theory. But it is also correct that p-n junction theory and p-n junctions and all of that came after. You already knew about the bipolar transistor and the injection phenomenon (Bardeen and Brittain) and that no one would have given you a nickel for that idea ahead of time (i.e., before Bardeen and Brittain’s work).


Nebeker:

That's interesting, though, that Shockley was doing that in something of a closed way, so that--


Holonyak:

That's correct.


Nebeker:

--Bardeen and Brattain didn't know that he was doing it.


Holonyak:

That's correct. And as a matter of fact, you know, in Bardeen's writings about this if you go read through all of his "stuff", you'll find there are comments about that. And there are comments of other people about that. That finally, you see-- There was still argument in the point-contact transistor studies; was there some peculiar surface effect going on that was somehow or another connecting the injection phenomenon on the emitter to what was going on at the collector? And there were people who still weren't "buying" the notion that you were injecting holes into n-type material, positive-particle holes into n-type material "negative" crystal, and then extracting them on this other contact. So John Shive made a crystal in the form of a wedge. It was, well, just exactly in the form of a wedge. And he put one contact on one side, and one on the other side, where it was essentially impossible for the surface to be involved. And this thing worked perfectly, just like Bardeen and Brattain's transistor, and showed that it was a bulk phenomenon where pairs were injected at the emitter and so forth. Apparently somewhere along in that time, when Shockley saw that there was no resisting this, then he produces this theory that he'd been working on involving the junction transistor. And, see, you have to admire what he had done because the man was ingenious. But in some of Shockley's writings somewhere he indicates that he felt disappointed, like this whole thing, that this quest (a solid state amplifier) he was on, had eluded him, had dropped into other people's hands.

At the time Shockley died and I was in Bardeen's office and we were talking about this, I mentioned to John that I'd read Shockley's preface in his book, and it said that without John Bardeen, "who made a book like this a need", or something of that sort.... Well, see, that's exactly--that's an admission--of how all this happened. And I remember Bardeen looked at me, and he says, "Well, you ought to look at my copy." No, no. I guess in the preface it wasn't that statement. The preface had some statement by Shockley about what he owed to Bardeen and Brattain for the bipolar transistor, where he comes right out and says the bipolar transistor of Bardeen and Brattain. But then when I mentioned that to Bardeen, then he says to me, well, then I ought to look in his copy, which Shockley had autographed. And there it says: "To John Bardeen who made a book like this a need." Now, start putting all these things together. Start putting together the lecture in the class I had from him in January 1952 where he describes all this, put all of these facts into place, and then see what you conclude. And see, that's what I wrote in this version original Physics Today manuscript. But then what I did was, as I said, I went off on some tangents, and I could understand Gloria, the editor, saying, Okay, let's get rid of the tangents and all that. But then the rest, let's publish. Well, hell! That's not what happened. What happened was then they took out these things, you see, because I'm offending somebody with this. I'm not offending somebody. I'm telling somebody exactly what happened there at the lab bench in 214 EERL in the Spring of 1980. That if my time (death) comes the way Bardeen's does, nobody will know how the hell come that Electronics Magazine is sitting there with his signature in it, and sitting right here, and what he told me in the Spring of 1980. And these other things.

If you want to tell the truth, and you want history--From Bell's point of view, it's not necessary to say this because three people at Bell Labs invented the transistor. Bell Labs is this mecca where these great things happen. Bullshit! It doesn't happen that way. It doesn't happen that way at all. These are all people. They're in constant pulling and tugging, and sometimes it's smooth, sometimes it's not so smooth. And history ought to know this because then young people really are seeing that this stuff is done by people, and it isn't done in some clean, antiseptic, beautiful way. It's done with guesses, with arguments, with all the foibles and peculiarities of people.


Nebeker:

It's also so much more interesting that way. [Laughter]


Holonyak:

Hell yes! Otherwise it would just be just cold, you see. And it would be what a lot of people think science and engineering is. It's not true. It's got all these elements of how people think and work and whatnot. Incidentally, a lot of students. They dubbed John "Whispering John," or "Silent John". They didn't know the Bardeen that I knew. See, we could be here like this, and let's say he was alive. He could suddenly walk in the door. On one occasion I was in the engineering library, which is in this building (south)--and it's going to go now in this new building (north)--and here he (Bardeen) comes. He'd come over here (the nearby library) looking for me, and he comes in the stacks, and I see right away just from his face, something's wrong. I say, "John, what's wrong?" He says, "Bernd died." Bernd Matthias was the superconductivity fellow, experimentalist, who was the adviser and mentor to this fellow Chu who's down in Houston that made such a stir about high Tc superconductors. John Bardeen, Bernd Matthias, and Ginsburg in the Soviet Union were three of the great believers that superconductivity didn't depend just on low-temperature processes, but there were coupling schemes that would take it up to higher temperature. At one of John's--it must have been the retirement party--Bernd Matthias was here, and I remember him "working" on John unmercifully, teasing him, and saying, "John, the BCS theory, what does it tell me about how to go find the next superconductor? That's not how we find them." And, see, Bardeen is just grinning at him because that's really his friend, and Bernd is an experimentalist, and he's just baiting Bardeen and whatnot, and saying, you know, BCS is great and all that, but it doesn't do this other thing, help me find the next material. And, see, Bardeen, when he walked in the Engineering Library at Urbana, and was looking for me, was very upset because Matthias was younger than Bardeen, and he had died of a heart attack or something, and Bardeen was upset. I could see that on him right away. See, the students may not think because of his style and how he lectured and all that, that he wasn't a scintillating figure. Once you were in the lab and knew him, it was interesting what came out of him, and you did see his feeling then and what he thought, and what he liked, and what he disliked. I got some of that in my article (first version). Then what happened was that of course there were compromises, and then there was another version of it, and then finally the version that you saw.


Nebeker:

Yes.


Holonyak:

So here's that first version, including this picture that came out of Electronics Magazine. And then here's the second version, which gets closer to the published version, and then there’s the usual stuff that happens, then, where a "guy" disagrees with how you worded something, and they want to change your wording. For example, I'm prone to use "experimentalist," and the editor, or the sub-editor, that I was dealing with there kept changing that to "experimenter." I looked at the other authors of the Physics Today "thing", and I saw that experimentalist was all over in there. And I thought, what the hell is this physiker doing? Gotta meddle with this other stuff, you know. There's all this other kind of stuff. I don't mind. Editing has to go on, but you have to do a lot of your own editing. But Gloria has some young guys there that had to meddle with some of that. So there's a little bit of that in there. In the final one, too.

John Moll

Nick Holonyak:

I have one other thing here that I'm stuck with, and I don't really know what to do with it. Someone might ask, "Well, Nick, when you left Bardeen, you went to work for John Moll. He's sort of your postdoc adviser. He's your first boss in industry." Or something like that. Yeah. That's correct. "And how close is the relationship?" It's very close. It's so close that I got elected to the Academy of Engineering in 1973, and I was embarrassed because John Moll, I felt, should have been ahead of me. And the first thing I did was nominated him. When I went to my first Academy of Sciences meeting, I'm a member, and he's not, and a Stanford professor and I were the two that “pounded” on that, and so forth. IEEE gave me the Edison Medal, and I immediately thought, Jesus Christ! I mean, this is strange. What about some of the senior people I know that have done tremendous things? I nominated John Moll, and the committee took it. So I'm very close to him.

Well, he called me first when he realized, and Gloria Lubkin sent him that stuff, that something's wrong (z.p., illness). He's first checking up on me and my health. So we get rid of that. Then we got on to that (my Bardeen manuscript). Then I think I "spooked" him because, you see, John has been around some first stuff that isn't out “there”, that people don't know about. How did Silicon Valley become Silicon Valley? It didn't spring up in California. It started somewhere else. When I worked for him (Moll), there were not more than--I don't think there were ten people at Bell Labs, I think it was more like six, that were working on silicon-diffused transistors. There were maybe six of us at most that had anything to do with that. And that year, 1954-55, everything went crazy. It absolutely went nuts with just events, events, events. Now, I don't know. John Moll was at Bell Telephone Labs ahead of me, and he knows of some stuff that preceded it a little bit. Then when I went in the Army and there were some things (Si-related developments) that came a little bit later and whatnot. And he realizes we made a lot of mistakes relative to documenting, publishing, "broadcasting", in terms of propaganda and all that. I said, "John--" I could tell that he was bothered. He's a guy a little bit like Bardeen. He's not prone to say anything about his own ideas or work. But he's also a proud man who's, I'm sure, irritated when you've got these people who get all the credit for things that are lesser. Bob Noyce isn't the guy that figured out that silicon was good stuff and ought to be worked on. Before he ever got to silicon a guy like John Moll was twisting our arms telling us this is what we've got to do, this is how we've got to do it. And, see, up to that point, the technology kept being "jumped", replaced, different technology, and so forth. But from that point on, the technology merely evolved. It didn't jump from silicon to something else. Metalization didn't go away. Diffusion didn't go away. The oxide processing and everything else didn't go away. It just got worked on further, and further, and further, and further.


Nebeker:

But it was in that fifties, mid-fifties period?


Holonyak:

Exactly.


Nebeker:

That things were rapidly changing.


Holonyak:

Right. So I said, okay, John. By the accident of how life has worked, I got original memos, I got original devices and all that. I also happen to have a fairly good memory about some things. And maybe it's a trick. My mother was not an educated person. She was an orphan in the old country, and she relied strictly on memory. I could read her something like when I read her the book she was supposed to learn for issues (the matter) of becoming a citizen. She committed it all to memory. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! So she'd laugh at me and my sister sometimes when we would want to write things down. So I think what you do then (to meet the challenge) is you inevitably either shy away from using memory or you begin to coax memory. There's no way I could forget some of the things that we did when I went and worked with John Moll. So I said, "Look, John, not only do I have all this stuff that the fellows sent me (that was boxed and sent to my home address, my parents address). I've got some of the prototype devices that would have been just scrap. I got some of the memos and things. I got a lot of the stuff. I'm going to take a first cut at writing what we did." And then he says, "Okay." Then he says, "It'll take me six months. It'll get me cranked up, and it'll take me six months to do that." It's been more than a year. And we've been on the phone in the last month or month and a half. In the meantime, see, I made figures, I made slides. I sent him slides. He's been using those slides. He gave a talk in Japan. He gave one at MIT. At MIT they “cut” a tape on it. He sent me the tape, and I'm sort of laughing because I just looked at it within the last two weeks, and it's accurate, but there are memory lapses in there on certain things. I don't know where his part of this is. See, I did all of this (i.e., the manuscript on the 1954-55 Si-diffused devid work).


Nebeker:

This is your draft?


Holonyak:

This is my draft. I didn't put my name on it because when Moll and I talked about it, I agreed, since I worked for him, it's Moll and Holonyak. It's my first draft to him, and he hasn't done a damned thing to it. See, this is the thing that I was talking about, is something that he and I are going to want to publish someplace. I don't know how to handle it because I don't have his permission to give it to anybody. In other words, I'm perfectly willing to say, Okay, Rik, go ahead and look at it. Think about it and all that. But realize you're sitting on a manuscript of Moll and Holonyak that is incomplete. Why do that? Well, partly the reason to do it is to let you know what the hell I'm talking about. The other reason to do it is partly that if he falls over dead over there (in California), and I fall over dead, somebody will know that this thing is sitting on the desk in Urbana, and these figures--I'm not talking about something that someone gave me--I'm talking about figures that I made myself back when we were doing some of this. Then the way life works, I'm describing this (by the accident of being drafted into the Army) to Kikuchi in Tokyo in November 12, 1956. This is what was written on the back of this photograph. Now Kikuchi later leaves that which is the MITI Electrotechnical Lab, and becomes Sony's second research lab director, or something like that. So Kikuchi now is a very prominent figure who is an emeritus director of Sony's research. But in 1954-1955 was when we know about silicon in the U.S. and prototype the things that Shockley's going to carry to Silicon Valley, and that Bob Noyce and the others are going to get their hands on later that make possible Fairchild and what happened there. But which actually started at Bell Labs. Now what do we do with this? See, a lot of people who've written about this stuff weren't the principals.


Nebeker:

Sure.


Holonyak:

John Moll and I are two of the guys that worked on this. One other man working for him, Jim Goldey is still alive and out there somewhere. Another one, George Bernski, John Moll told me in a phone conversation is dead. Tannenbaum worked a little bit on this. He just got beat out to be chairman of AT&T. He just was one man down. But at the time I'm talking about, he was a piece of this (i.e., the early Si work). And then a couple of others that I mentioned in here, and that was it. I don't know if we have any comments about Shockley in here. Shockley claims-- There's some stuff here about the p-n-p-n switch, which became the controlled rectifier and which is now the thyristor. Shockley wasn't anywhere around us when we built that. John Moll was guiding that. And then GE picked that up and made the SCR, and I'm the only one that worked on this at Bell Labs, then was with the originators at General Electric. See, if Shockley had picked up on the p-n-p-n switch and had made a power device, he could have gotten rich. GE picked up on that, and that's a long story how that happened. That's the controlled rectifier. By the accident of me going in the Army and then not returning to Bell Labs and then going to GE, I wound up working on this device in two places, at Bell Labs and at GE. I'm willing to let you take this, but I think you have to understand that this is a manuscript, and until I know what John Moll has done-- As it stands right now, it's what I put together. But presumably he is adding something to this, and it's going to be a manuscript that he and I want to publish somewhere.


History of technology methodology and publications

Nebeker:

I know that Proceedings of the IEEE would be interested. They do historical pieces often. Especially longer pieces, retrospectives, that Physics Today, say, wouldn't be interested in.


Holonyak:

Physics Today, I'm partly in their camp, I'm partly not in their camp, because, you see, when Bardeen came here, he was in both departments (in EE and Physics). And I was in E.E. though I had a lot of graduate work in physics and math, as well as in E.E. And there was no need for me to change from where I was. So I was around engineers and whatnot, and who knows? In my early life maybe I could have gone in various directions. But little by little, the way things worked for me, I got into experimental work more and more and more. So in the end I'm very much an engineer in the sense that I have built things.

Unlike almost everyone else here (Urbana) working on semiconductors, I've worked on silicon. Most of my other colleagues around here don't know a damned thing about silicon. I feel very much like an engineer. When I pick up some of the stuff that Lillian Hoddeson writes about solid state "this", solid state "that", and they're patting themselves on the back, I'm partly laughing at them (physikers). Because a lot of the things they claim are really things that came from people like myself, John Moll, and all the others one way or another. For example, at the time Esaki was talking about tunnel diodes, I knew that at that time I knew as much about building silicon devices as anybody, and I knew that, well, I ought to take a “shot” at this and make a tunnel diode out of silicon. Which I did. And down the hall from me there was a friend who had liquid helium. And we knew that because of how those things (degenerate semiconductors) behave, they ought to be able to go down into helium (4.2K). And lo and behold, there were strange bumps in the characteristic that turned out to be phonon effects. Okay. So here's the p-n junction that is showing us this thing which is fundamental physics. A famous physicist who runs the Lebedev Institute in the Soviet Union now--or in Russia now-Keldysh, had written a theory paper, and Franz in Germany had written a theory paper, about phonon effects in semiconductors. But neither one of them had said "and you'll see this in a tunnel diode". It was after we had already done this--and my colleague in Schenectady put an input on it, Bob Hall--that it was apparent that this had anything to do with what the theoreticians had written. Okay. What did they have to say then about how we the people who built "things" come across, in the process of building, fundamental effects that then elucidate some of these areas then which they then claim are nice, esoteric, pure physics? See, Lillian has a habit of writing a lot of the stuff like that, and I doubt like hell that she even knows who John Moll is and what Moll's role was in getting silicon going at Bell Labs, and selling this to Jack Morton, and how what that meant for how processing and crystal work and everything else got rolling. See, in other words, they're writing partly for themselves, and they're partly flying the flag to justify their existence. See, I was very surprised to get your letter because I didn't know that IEEE had someone like you and others interested in the history of a lot of this "stuff". A lot of the history that the "physikers" are claiming as their history is not their history. It comes from engineers and IEEE people and sources like that. I've had a lot to do with the Physical Society and Journal of Applied Physics and all that, and am very close to the editors of Journal of Applied Physics and all that. But I've actually had, in a certain different way, much more to do with my engineering colleagues than I can believe and whatnot. And IEEE ought to be in the middle of this somewhere.


Nebeker:

Yes. Well, we're trying to explore that, science/engineering interaction.


Holonyak:

I had some bare spots up there on the cabinets (office filing cabinets in 214 EERL), and we (Bardeen and I) were talking in here. He was leaning against the cabinet and had his arm up there. He was pointing at the second slide I used yesterday (ASEE Talk) where I mentioned the inversion layer. A lot of people don't know the concept of an inversion layer and where it comes from, but that's a vital part of all CMOS elements. Those are the elements which make possible microprocessors and all that. That inversion layer idea, in using the resistance of and modulating the inversion layer and whatnot, is John's idea. And his first patent dealt with that, and it wasn't the transistor patent, which was the second (Bardeen) patent. It's interesting on this first patent; it's just in his name. It's not in anyone else's name. Not even Brattain's. It was Bardeen that was the source of those ideas. A guy like Bardeen, who was very proud of the BCS theory, nevertheless, was also not some kind of a fool, and he knew what the importance was of the semiconductor and what its value was and all that kind of "stuff". In other words, here is a person who did straddle both camps. Some of the pure physicists are driven crazy by him because they weren't as deep and as good as he was, and yet were bothered by the fact that he had this practical side of him that could see implications that got to the point of “feeding” us [Laughter] that are so important.

What I did here was I wrote this note on this manuscript just as a warning to people to let them know that this is my property. If John Moll adds something to it, it's Moll and Holonyak's property. What we want to do is we want to put this in some form to indicate that there was a beginning to Silicon Valley which was not in Silicon Valley. That was in New Jersey, that was at Bell Labs. And this is not official history out of Bell Labs Archives with a piece here and a piece there. This is from the hands of participants who, you know, were directly involved in it.


Nebeker:

Yes. Right.


Holonyak:

And maybe in that sense it's flawed; I'm going to give it to you simply for information's sake. I knew Bob Noyce very well, and Gordon Moore. I don't know Andy Grove very well. Maybe I've run into him once or twice. Noyce was really tough. He was smart, and he was tough, and he was a real competitor. But I wouldn't put him at the same hero level as John Moll, whom I don't put at the same hero level as John Bardeen. In other words, you see, I don't care if you say, now, well, what he (Noyce) did was he jumped the wire from here to here to here, and made the first integrated circuit. Yes! And he made it on a technology that the rest of us put in place ahead of him. And without that there was no way of doing that next step. In other words, the pyramid is sitting now just on that top part. What the hell is it resting on? And see, partly that article is about stuff like that. But at any rate, this is the thing (1980 Electronics Magazine) that Bardeen was thumbing through and that I commented on.


Holonyak:

Give me that one on top. And see, Figure 1.


Nebeker:

Oh, here it is, page 217.


Holonyak:

There it is. That figure in there was made off of this. I got a good Bell Labs version of this, but Bardeen wouldn't sign it. It was already after the other two (Brattain and Shockley) were dead. This one he signed because this one he signed back in the spring of 1980 when this "thing" (Electronics Magazine) came. What I did was I replaced the department's copy, and I kept this one that he signed. That's Bardeen’s signature in ink when we had the conversation. And I knew damned well I'm going to remember this because of how this happened.


Nebeker:

Oh, that's very nice.


Holonyak:

And you see also something that was very nice about this: This is the collector characteristic of a point contact transistor on this oscilloscope. All of this electronics equipment is vacuum tube equipment. But that's how the collector characteristic looked of a point-contact transistor. That's telling me something further that some other person wouldn't know and wouldn't care about. They're just looking at the three people (Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley). But that (the oscilloscope trace) means something to those of us who worked on this stuff. When he (Bardeen) came here, we duplicated this kind of work. That was the first kind of work that we did. I comment about that in here. Oh, and here's one of the slides that I showed yesterday. Except, Paul Coleman down the hall had this duplicated from something. Coleman gave me one of them, and Bardeen signed that one, and that's why his signature was on that slide that I showed you yesterday. You asked about those figures (the availability), and you see I had those run off by our photographer. The Bardeen "box" (transistor oscillator-amplifier) I also had photographed and whatnot and published in Physics Today. It's in the safe (Bardeen kept the transistor box in a safe). Gladin, the photographer, had shot all kinds of pictures of it and whatnot. Presumably we've got all of that here. Here's this one I was talking about here.


Nebeker:

Right. That's very nice.


Holonyak:

Then I had Gladin, the photographer, make me a slide of that. These I took out of some of Bardeen's stuff. This is one of the items that I showed yesterday about the start of Bardeen's lab. And here's that same figure. And here this was in Tau Beta Pi (TßP) magazine and it says: "Shockley (seated), Bardeen (left), and Brattain working together invented the transistor." Hell no! They weren't working together. Shockley was off doing something else. Bardeen and Brattain were working together. "This simple current amplifier could be said to be a product of the discussions around the coffeepot." [Chuckling] I don't think so. [Laughter] I don't really think so.


Nebeker:

Not among the three of them.


Holonyak:

No, no. Incidentally, now, this is (metal-semiconductor barrier) out of Bardeen's, some of his "stuff". I added this line in here because from here over you could say the semiconductor is n-type. From here over you could say it's p-type. Now, that's a metal semiconductor contact, a point-contact, and the lecture Bardeen gave us when I was his student (1952). But when I put this line here, I can argue, yes, ignore the metal. This is p over here and n over here, and this is then totally the equivalent of a p-n junction. And don't tell me that John Bardeen knew about metal semiconductor contacts and he didn't understand what p-n junctions were. Because I'll take you right back into his own printed work (1947) and show you that p-n junctions were very well known to them. In other words, the idea of Shockley's work on the p-n junction wasn't that Shockley created the p-n junction. Shockley was smart enough to understand it after the point-contact transistor (i.e.), that a p-n junction should function the same way and brought that into the p-n junction. He's not the creator of the p-n junction. He's the creator of the notion that you could extend injection to the p-n junction. I don't want to destroy anybody. That's not the point. The point is that people have got to be able to understand that contributions are different contributions by different individuals, and be able to separate what the contributions are.

Picking up some of this information. And then later, after I'd gone through the surgery, some photographer took--that.

Family background

Holonyak:

Well, partly my history's simple in a sense. I come from southern Illinois. My parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, from the Carpathian Mountains. My father came to America in 1909, and my mother in 1921. They didn't know one another in Europe. They had totally different histories.

At Rutgers you've got a professor, Joel Lebowitz. Do you know Joel?


Nebeker:

No, I don't.


Holonyak:

At an Academy of Sciences meeting I asked him once where he was from because he's got an accent. And he said to me, "Europe." I said, "I know that." [Chuckling] Then I said to him, "Where?" And he says, "Eastern Europe." I said, "I know that, too." [Laughter] And then I think he's getting irritated because there's this American bothering him, you know. So finally he says, "From the Carpathians." So then I said to him, "Oh, Te znai-esh nash yazik". "Oh, you know our language?" [Laughter] Then he looked at me and says, "Oh! Did you say something about "knowing"? I missed part of that." And I said, "Yes." I said, "Then you know our language?" He says, "No, no, Nick," he says. "Where I come from there are 70 some percent people speaking their Slavic tongue, and then about 15 or so percent speaking Yiddish (I grew up on Yiddish), and the rest spoke Hungarian." I said, "Where are you from, Joel?" He says, "From a place called Khust." I said, "From my mother's village." [Laughter] But I knew the language, and he (Lebowitz) didn't.

Both of my parents were from the Carpathians, and in their house my dad mainly spoke his Slavic dialect. I grew up with both languages: His language and English. I don't ever remember my mother speaking it. Actually, my mother did speak Carpatho-Russian to me and my sister, particularly if she didn’t want an English-speaking person to understand her. My mother spoke Carpatho-Russian, but mainly English to me and my sister, particularly in our older years.


Nebeker:

Did your mother speak that?


Holonyak:

My mother did, too. My mother spoke Carpatho-Russian, but mainly English to me and my sister, particularly in our older years. And my father would get very irritated if she would switch to Hungarian because he considered Hungarians as invaders, as occupiers.


Nebeker:

Hungarian was her native language?


Holonyak:

No, no, no. Her native language was also Carpatho-Russian. But she was an orphan and had served in the priest's household, and the clergy and the government and whatnot used Hungarian because their country was under Austro-Hungary. And she heard a much higher level of educated Hungarian than she did of her own language. So she was very proud of her Hungarian because she knew that she could speak Hungarian the way an educated person spoke. But her own tongue was peasant language. [Laughter]


Nebeker:

I see.


Holonyak:

At any rate--


Nebeker:

Did your father understand Hungarian?


Holonyak:

Oh, yes. But he would pretend not to. My mother said the Hungarians would try to make them sing the Hungarian national anthem, and they would sing it in such a mocking way that the Hungarians gave up. You see you can't subjugate people; it can't be done. They'll keep their whatever it is that they've got alive some way or another. So at any rate, they were immigrants, and they put quite a store on the fact that education was the only thing you really had.


Nebeker:

They met in this country?


Holonyak:

Yes. My mother had an uncle, her father's brother, who came to America and got his back broken in a mine. But this uncle had written back to Europe after World War I and said, if there's anybody in so-and-so village of my family that wants to come to America, I'll bring them to America. So that uncle brought my mother to America. That was the equivalent of my grandparent. Her father's brother, her uncle. And as a matter of fact, we had a word (streii) calling him "uncle." She called him "uncle," and so my sister and I called him the same thing. And if the uncle is from your mother's side, it's one word. If the uncle is from the other side, it's a different word.


Nebeker:

And that's generally a close relationship, the mother's uncle?


Holonyak:

Yes. And see, it was her uncle, her father's brother. That's tantamount to what I know as a grandparent because, see, my father left Europe and left his family behind. She left Europe and left everybody behind except for that uncle of hers.


Nebeker:

I see. And they were all in the same town?


Holonyak:

No. He was way up in the mountains, and she was down at the foot of the mountains.


Nebeker:

In Illinois?


Holonyak:

In the Carpathian Mountains in Europe.


Nebeker:

Oh, I see. Okay.


Holonyak:

And they met in Southern Illinois. See, the people from that part of Europe came to either steel mills--they came there in Jersey and a few places in Connecticut or to Pennsylvania in the coal fields and in Southern Illinois in the coal fields. And when my dad didn't like what was happening in the coal fields around Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, he'd come to Illinois. When he didn't like what was happening in Illinois, he'd go back to Pennsylvania. He thought those were the two best places on earth. When I deal with Russians and they say, well, you're really one of us, I tell them all the time, (i.e.) Russians and Ukrainians, hey, forget it. My dad came to America at 21, and so he could tell you, when he was alive, all the history of the U.S. coal mining, of John L. Lewis and the mines and all that. And what it was like to be a coal miner for 50 years in America.


Nebeker:

Wow!


Youth in Illinois

Holonyak:

At any rate, that's what I knew until I came up here (Urbana) at the end of World War II.


Nebeker:

Where did you grow up?


Holonyak:

In Southern Illinois.


Nebeker:

What was the town?


Holonyak:

I was born in Zeigler, Illinois, which is way down deep in the big coal fields. And during the Depression we moved to the St. Louis area into Madison County. So that's really where I consider home because that's where I went from third grade to eighth grade, and then I went to Edwardsville High School. This young man that I had on one of the slides, Burnham, when he came as my grad student, I asked him where he was from, and he said, "Ed'ardsville." See, I knew he was for real because we never say Edwardsville. You just say Ed'ardsville. And I went to the same high school. Sixty-six, the famous 66 comes out of St. Louis, comes up Sunset Hill, comes through Edwardsville, right past the high school. During World War II I'd sit in study hall looking at them hauling war materiel right there in front of the high school, right up 66 on up to Chicago for assembly and whatnot.

At any rate, when I was at Edwardsville High School if the war had gone on one more year, I would have been drafted. I had a World War II draft card, and the war ended. Maybe if they hadn't dropped the atom bomb and it had gone on another year, I would have been in the Pacific. I'm on the boundary line of, any older and you were “in”, any younger and you weren't. And so when the G.I.'s came back at the end of World War II, this place (University of Illinois) was crowded, and they couldn't get you in. But they opened up extension centers in a couple of places, and one of them was in Granite City across the river from St. Louis. So I went my first year in college to Granite City through the extension center of the University of Illinois. Then as a sophomore, I guess there's some thinning out of people, and I came here.


Nebeker:

Were you always interested in science?


Holonyak:

I was always interested in-- Yes, more or less science. In fact one of the teachers then wanted me to go into chemistry, and I thought, no, that's too cookbookish. I liked electrical things more. I was always interested in electrical things.


Nebeker:

Were you into radio as a kid?


Holonyak:

Yes, crystal sets. Crystal sets with oatmeal boxes and wrap (with wire) your own things (tuning coils). And also what I was into was that my godfather had a Model T. We also had special words in dialect for godfather and godmother. You had a godfather from one family and a godmother from another family because where my folks came from Carpathians, pestilence, smallpox, whatever, killed off people. So a godfather and godmother were very important. In fact, I got one slide in here of a little onion-domed church where I was baptized down in the coal fields. It's a Russian Orthodox church that my dad helped build down in the coal fields. So I was very close to my godmother's family, and we refer to godmother as Na-nashka and godfather as Na-nashko. And I'm always with my godfather, and he had Model T's, and he had these spark coils that are the ignition. So I learned before long that those damned things buzz, and you could get a battery on them and get high voltage out of them and whatnot. And you could try to electrocute a spider with it or something like that, you know. [Laughter] So I was meddling around with those ignition coils of the Model T Ford all the time trying to figure out how that worked. And also coal miners had blasting powder. I'd leave that alone, but they had carbide lamps, and I'd fool around with those carbide lamps trying to make a torch out of it to be able to solder and do things like that, see, to learn how.

So I was five, and my dad gave me a pocket knife. I whittled all of my fingers. I can remember once maybe in kindergarten in Zeigler, Illinois, the bell went off for the end of recess, and I hear it--I'm way down at the end of the lot--and not being careful closing the knife, I cut my finger. But I remember I wasn't going to say anything to the teacher. I pulled out my handkerchief, wrapped the finger up, put my hand in my pocket. [Chuckling] Then I learned how to make everything with that pocket knife. During the Depression my dad went to Montana (for work), and I'd ask my godfather to sharpen the pocket knife, and he'd say, "Here...." He'd show me how, and then I learned how to do all that myself. Also, my mother would give me the clippers and say, "Go to your godfather and have him cut your hair." And there would be Yugoslavs, Montenegroes, Serbs, and whatnot there, and she'd tell me in dialect, "Tell your godfather not to use our clippers on those Montenegros and Serbs and whatnot because they've got wiry hair, and it's going to make our clippers dull." [Laughter] So I tell my godfather that. I'm about that big. Then they'd look at me, and they'd say, "Hey, come on, Comorgeeya!" You know they said, "Hey, we're going to cut your ears off." Then I can remember telling one of them, "Yeah, I'm not afraid of you." [Laughter] I'm about that big, and they're that big.

But I can remember my godfather was very handy. He could make anything, he could whittle anything.


Nebeker:

What was his occupation?


Holonyak:

Coal miner.


Nebeker:

He was also a miner.


Holonyak:

But he was a very handy guy. He could play the fiddle, he could play the Jew's harp, he could knit. He made me a wagon, see, and I see how he's doing things. And I've got a pocket knife, and he's cutting things and whatnot and making things, and I followed him. So I learned that I could build. Anything I wanted to build I could build. I just knew that. I just appreciated that. You didn't go ask for things. You made. You got a piece of wood, and you made anything you wanted. You made a slingshot, a rubber gun, a scooter. Whatever you wanted, you made. So that was just how it was. I know that looking at things now, we would be regarded as poor in the coal fields. But we didn't feel that way. You took an inner tube, and you used the rubber from the inner tube. You took a tire, and you cut it up and made things out of that. You just did everything that way.


Nebeker:

So you experimented with these ignition coils and crystal radios?


Holonyak:

Yes, yes. We'd wrap (with wire) and make those tuning coils. There were a couple of us who were interested in that, and somewhere out of grade school or high school we'd do that. Then somewhere we got our hands on electric bells, and we'd try to hook up bells.


Nebeker:

What about a telegraph system? Did you try that?


Holonyak:

That type of thing. That type of thing to signal to one another. See everything like that was intriguing. So when you get to a classroom where you start to "learn the power of formal science", then you're like a sponge. So when I “hit” Edwardsville High School, there were some math teachers that were very good. And there was a science teacher or two that was very good. And so nothing escaped you. It was obvious from that that that's what you wanted to pursue. They also taught languages in our high school, including German. My wife says in Chicago they cut off German during the war, but down in Edwardsville they didn't. But I avoided languages then because I already knew about languages at home. See, other languages were not strange. They existed, and we knew that. We used a different language not just English. So I didn't particularly bother with that. On my mind was always electrical things, science, math....


Nebeker:

Did you think you would be going into science or into engineering?


Holonyak:

I don't think it was clear because, you see, if you come from a household where there are educated people, maybe you know that, but that wasn't true in my case. Also, what was important to us was reading and writing. My dad went to Montana during the Depression, and I think I was in the first grade. My mother said, "Here. Take the pencil and paper and start writing your dad a letter." So I was writing to my dad as quickly as I was in school.


Nebeker:

Is that because she wanted you to have that practice?


Holonyak:

No.


Nebeker:

She wasn't literate?


Holonyak:

No, she wasn't literate.


Nebeker:

I see.


Holonyak:

And see, he was literate in the following sense: His mother had taught him Cyrillic in his catechism. So he knew all the church holidays and all that. Even though my mother was a servant in the priest's household, she had nothing but derogatory comments about the clergy because, see, she was just chattel, just property, just a servant.


Nebeker:

Was she Russian Orthodox?


Holonyak:

Yes. Oh, yes. Both of them. But nevertheless she had no use for the clergy. He knew all of the liturgy and the praying and all that. And if it was around Easter, and there was a little church nearby, and she made the special Easter bread, he would be the one-- I could hear him get up and go through all the ritual and the chanting and all that. Then before he cuts it he inscribes a cross on it and whatnot. He knew the whole thing, all of it. She'd sometimes refer us to him. She knew the basic stuff.


Nebeker:

So she had you writing letters to him?


Holonyak:

She had me writing because his mother taught him, how to read Cyrillic. After that the Latin script was just another script for him to learn, and so he proceeded with that. So using that as background, he taught himself how to read Latin script. I've got in there some letters of his I saved. He would write to me phonetically in dialect, and I would write to him phonetically in dialect using Latin script. Because when I'm out somewhere else in the world, not at home and we're trying to write to one another, some of it's interesting because English starts to get mixed in there but in Slavic grammar. Out around you could find such people because they're in Jersey. Andy Warhol was of Carpathian descent. Sandra Dee. This guy Urich who's on TV.


Nebeker:

Oh, yes. The commercials.


Holonyak:

There's a half a million of that ethnic root in the US. And maybe that's the first stuff that I knew Carpatheo-Russian. At any rate, my mother made me write to my dad because we've got to keep track of one another, and he would send us money from his job.


Nebeker:

He was in the mines up there?


Holonyak:

In the mines.


Nebeker:

Copper mines?


Holonyak:

No, coal mines.


Nebeker:

Coal mines up in Montana.


Holonyak:

And at some point he got his leg broken. He came back home, and he heard of a mine opening up between Edwardsville and Collinsville, across the river from St. Louis. So in 1936 we moved there, and I'll never forget any of that.... But at any rate, reading and writing was fundamental. And it's really fundamental for people who don't have that background. So I found myself reading and writing immediately, as soon as I'm in school. Because we need it. We need it to be able to do everything that has to be done.


Nebeker:

What about brothers and sisters?


Holonyak:

I have a sister.


Nebeker:

One sister?


Holonyak:

Yes. My dad felt very strongly that since there was starvation where he came from, that this is what you faced. And my mother said that he didn't want any children because he felt that starvation was a reality, and that making a living was so difficult. You see, my dad was 40 years old when I was born. So that's an older parent, and that's a no-nonsense parent. He was the kind of guy that could go through this wall. He had big hands, and he worked hard.


Nebeker:

Continually at work in the coal mines.


Holonyak:

He died in his 85th year of black lung, and how he survived that long, God only knows. He'd come home up the hill, and I'm big enough that he says we're going to dig a garden. And I'm out with him because he was a master at that, and we're turning over the dirt, and I've got some fishing worms. I said, "I'm going fishing." And he says, "Kopai"! That means "dig". [Laughter] And I dig some more with him. This guy's worked all day long, and now he's turning over dirt. I'm big enough to help him, and I said, well, I've got enough worms, I'm going to go fishing. I replied to him in English. And he says again, "Kopai"! [Chuckling] Dig some more, and I've got one of these tobacco cans, and it's flat, and I've got worms in there. I say, "I've got enough worms. I'm going to go fishing with this." Earthworms. Then he says-- He's had enough of that. And he says, "Ah, de budesh spate?" Where are you going to sleep? [Laughter] See, I know what he was saying: You didn't put the roof up there. You're not feeding the place and all that. You're doing what I tell you to do. I knew how far I could go with him. Of course, kids keep checking where the boundaries are. But I also knew very well where the hell the boundaries were, and what he expected, and what would be tolerated, and whatnot.

Now I miss him.

My sister says, "Give me a piece of bread." So I'm an American kid. I take a piece of bread, and I pitch it over to him, and he says, "Muuh ne mitai-eme hlib." He's across from me. "We don't throw bread." He says, "Narod umeraiye bez hliba." He says, "People die for lack of bread." Now I think about that, you know. But see bread was sacred. You didn't do that.

When I think about how the world is today and what the world was to him, I can understand. And now when you see the squeeze on the economies, economies bothered him, work, all of that kind of stuff, all of which we are seeing in spades. I wish he were alive because it would be interesting to talk to him about the conditions of life and what you can expect. He felt very strongly that if you don't produce, what's your right to eat? If you don't work-- He didn't believe in social security. He just didn't believe in it. He said, "How can you get paid for not working?" He just didn't understand it, didn't believe it. Of course he saw it and appreciated it, but....

Anyhow, I'd bring my report card home, and he'd say, "What's on it?" See, his hand is like a claw. He says, "Sign it." And of course [Chuckling] there was no argument about what the grades ought to be. He expected it. You're lucky; you were able to go to school. Now you--


Nebeker:

Get the highest grades.


Holonyak:

Incidentally, my parents' language, their dialect, is essentially Ukrainian, which is 70 to 80 percent Russian. The Ukrainians and Russians argue the source; it's silly. Russians say, "Golova", the Ukrainian says, "Holova", and we say "Holova" (head). The h and the g-- My name in Russian is Golonyak, not Holonyak. See, h's and g's get switched around. Hitler is Gitler in Russian. And so obviously in normal conversation with Russians I can get along fairly well. When they get literate on me, they give me trouble because obviously I haven't read Tolstoy and Pushkin and everything in Russian. But my dad wanted me to learn Russian from the Russian Orthodox priest because he knew there was a higher state of learning than what exists at the lower levels. And he knew there were writers and whatnot, and that one ought to strive. But then kids always argue, nah, we don't need that. And particularly I'm constantly giving him one of my versions of things in English, though in fact he knows that I understand everything he's telling me in dialect. But then when I go off into the world, I write to him in dialect. I just force my mind to think about it. And now sometimes I do that automatically. If he were alive there talking to me, I could understand every word. In other words, out there in Jersey and other places if there are old-timers (Carpatho-Russian immigrants) still alive, and if they wanted to talk to me, I know damn well I could understand them totally. Simply because I grew up at that table (my father's table), and that's how business was in his house.

But learning was expected. I don't know if he felt then that going to college then, though, was more important than working because I think he felt America has times when it works, then work. Then when it's not working, go to school. My mother felt more strongly: No, these kids learn. They should keep going. So then after-- There was a slight conflict of-- Well actually, I didn't feel that I had any right to go to school on his money. So during World War II I lied about my age--he didn't want me to--but I lied about my age, and I worked on the Illinois Central on a track-repair gang, on a section gang at 15. We worked ten hours a day, six days a week. We did heavy labor, and that probably was the beginning of me injuring my back. I've had two back surgeries and a back fusion. So I've had five surgeries; two of them have been on my back. Probably I hammered my back down with heavy work at that time. But that was what I came to college with. See, I could come to school here for twenty or thirty or forty dollars tuition, ninety dollars for rent in some converted barracks on the other side of the campus, and for ten dollars and a half buy a meal ticket that would feed me all week.


Nebeker:

Ninety dollars a month rent?


Holonyak:

Ninety dollars a semester.


Nebeker:

A semester.


Holonyak:

At the end of World War II. And then I moved into the gymnasium up here which was run as a dormitory for even cheaper living. So I could come here--

Education, graduate research

Nebeker:

That was your own savings that you were going to school with?


Holonyak:

Right. Exactly. But then when I became a grad student, of course, then I had an assistantship, and I was carrying myself. At any rate, I worked on the railroad for three summers and school holidays--1944, '45, '46. Then after the first year of college in a steel mill, and the second year of college in a steel mill. After the third year of college, things were tight, but he (my father) and I and a friend did some repair work on houses in the area, and there were some dentists and others that needed a roof replaced or something, and we'd do things like that to earn money to go to college. So that's what got me through college. At one point some physikers wanted me to transfer to physics, but I thought that was going to delay me because I'd already gotten pretty involved in E.E. Then after I'd gotten pretty far along in electronics, I didn't want to change. Then of course when Bardeen came, then I could see oh, oh. Here's something else that's further. And I heard that he was opening a laboratory. I was in a laboratory in a wing over this way (in EERL) dealing with microwave tubes. I'd actually worked on microwave tubes. I heard that Bardeen was looking for people who had laboratory experience. I talked to Bardeen, and Bardeen talked to my adviser, and I talked to him. The adviser was Heinz Von Voerster who was in cybernetics. Von Voerster had so many grad students, he more or less said, "Aw, sure. That's okay." So I transferred into Bardeen's group. Two of us were the grad students when it started. A year later Schrieffer and others came into the group. But I had already had experience with electronics when I went into Bardeen's activities.


Nebeker:

Where did that come from?


Holonyak:

From working in the tube group here. See, I got my bachelor's in '50.


Nebeker:

In 1950?


Holonyak:

Yes. And I was a teaching assistant here in 1950-51, and Bardeen came in '51. In '51 I had gone into this nearby group doing vacuum tube research.


Nebeker:

I see.


Holonyak:

So I had classroom laboratory experience, work experience. But then I also had experience working in a group doing microwave tube projects. So when Bardeen's lab started, not in '51 when he came, but in '52, and by then I had already background in laboratory work myself. So the two of us that went into Bardeen's lab had laboratory experience when we went into Bardeen's lab, but we didn't have semiconductor experience. And, see, we were starting cold on semiconductors. But the state of the art, what people knew then was extremely primitive. And John had visitors coming in, and boy, we would latch onto those visitors to get everything we could find out from them about various kinds of techniques. One of the visitors was Bob Hall from Schenectady, who was later my colleague at General Electric. But I can remember digging out of Bob Hall how you make alloy junctions, which was one of the ways to make p-n junctions. I'm the first person here (University of Illinois) to make p-n junctions, and I learned that from Bob Hall after he visited.


Nebeker:

How important was your tube work for what you did?


Holonyak:

My tube work was important in the sense that I knew about plating processes, electronics, building electronic equipment, power supplies, amplifiers. Because all the electronics then at that time you made. You didn't buy the stuff the way the stuff is bought now. You didn't have a chip that was a whole circuit. You went down to the stock room, bought vacuum tubes, transformers, resistors, capacitors, and whatnot, and you made everything. So I knew how to do all that. When I sat there (in 1951, Bardeen seminar) and Bardeen demonstrated that box ("the" famous transistor box) for the first time, I knew I could make a box like that, but it wouldn't be that size nor work that way and all that. I could make you an oscillator and an amplifier and all that kind of stuff, but I wouldn't have it in my hands and working so neatly and so quickly (instant turn-on) and all that kind of stuff not with the vacuum tubes.


Nebeker:

What had you thought of going into before Bardeen came here?"


Holonyak:

ILLIAC (a first digital computer) was being built. Art Samuel, who went to IBM from here, wanted me to go to IBM and get involved with computers. The ILLIAC project was connected with an Army Ordinance or whatnot project, and the ILLIAC project tried to hire me. But since I was working with the people working on vacuum tube electronics, I thought, well, I'm just going to stick with that, with microwave tubes. But then after Bardeen came, I took from him an atomic physics course late in 1951. Then in early 1952, he taught a course out of Shockley's book. After taking two courses from him, I felt--contrary to what latter-day students felt--that I was learning more from him than I was learning from a lot of other people. So when I heard that he was going to open up a laboratory, that right away looked attractive to me because I had already had two courses from him.


Nebeker:

And you took to the more theoretical kind of engineering?


Holonyak:

Well, at first, in my early graduate work, yes. Because that's what it is. It's mainly classroom work and the kinds of things that you can build from textbook learning. I knew, for example-- I didn't have the radio and electronics experience that someone who might have come out of the Navy and had been working on radar had. But I knew that I probably knew more mathematics than they did, and that I could catch them on--


Nebeker:

Had you gotten a lot of math in your early stuff?


Holonyak:

I did in high school. I had mathematics totally through high school, all four years. I knew that I could handle that kind of stuff very well. And I could probably catch the other people simply because of the analytical kind of things in there that I could learn as fast as they could learn. When we would do something in the laboratory in class in electronics, I would try to make sure I knew where everything was hooked up so that I could see how all that was happening. Then after about one round or two rounds of that, I caught onto it pretty quickly. Then after being in a group that was doing hands-on stuff, I knew that I could handle that. So when it looked like I could move into Bardeen's lab, I had no fears about that at all. I knew how to do a lot of that stuff. And he needed people who had lab ability and lab background because we're going to go into some strange stuff. Actually we started in a bare room. We had to build everything: benches, all of our apparatus. We tried from the literature, from what we could get from guests, visitors and whatnot. Pick up a little piece of the art here, a piece of the art there, and whatnot. And learned everything from scratch.


Nebeker:

So it was Bardeen and you and who was the other grad student?


Holonyak:

Richard Sirrine. Then a couple of postdocs, one a physical chemist (Harry Letaw) and one, Roy Morrison, who was a physiker who had been in solid state. He was sort of a quiet fellow and did most of his own work by himself. So we didn't learn too much from Roy Morrison. Letaw was a valuable guy, and you could learn a lot of chemistry from Letaw. Sirrine had had radio repair background in his earlier life, and so I could learn some electronics, further electronics, from Sirrine. But I already had some electronics background of my own from University of Illinois, and from just the fact that we had electronics going here at Illinois. Then of course after working with semiconductors two years in Bardeen's lab, when I got to Bell Labs, you see, that was just like a kid in a candy store. Because, you see, that's just more people doing more of the same stuff, and I can get right into it. In fact, some of the people first coming in sat in a corner reading memos.


Bell Labs and GE

Holonyak:

Well, Bell Labs was a revelation to me. One day Bardeen would say to me where am I going? I said, GE Then the next day he'd say, "Well, you're going to GE?" And I'd say, "No, I've changed my mind. I think I'm going to Bell Labs." "What about TI?" "Well, I'm not so happy about that, but I think I'll go to GE." And so I bounced from one to the other and to the other. Finally in the end I said, "Seventy-two hundred dollars at GE, seventy-eight hundred at Bell Labs. Six hundred dollars a year, fifty dollars a month. No way that Bell Labs is secondary to GE. Fifty bucks is fifty bucks." And I made the smartest decision of my life because who do I go to work with? John Moll. John Moll's got silicon on his brain and switching devices, which I've got written up in this thing (manuscript) that I handed to you, and what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. So I walked right into the optimum situation. I couldn't have gone into work with a better guy, on a better problem, in a better circumstance. That was just made to order.

And all hell broke loose in terms of what we did and what we got our hands on. For instance, we made the very first diffused silicon transistors, switches. We set the basis for the controlled rectifier, for the thyristor, and all that kind of stuff. We're the first ones to metallize silicon, and we're the first ones to set up a technology that became the invariant technology that led to Silicon Valley and to today's chips. That was just unreal. In fact, if anything, all of us underestimated what we had and what we should do with it. Everybody did, including John Moll and all the hierarchy. Bell included. Because nobody saw that as big as it was destined to become, if we had been more prescient in the sense of understanding that and pushing it, it could have been handled differently. Handled differently to the point where maybe the U.S. competition out there in foreign sources wouldn't be as formidable as it is today. In other words, you would not sell it and give it away as cheaply. You would take better care of it.


Nebeker:

Well, that's looking at it from the point of view of Bell management. They could have given more resources to this group and groups doing similar work.


Holonyak:

Exactly. That. And also set up more rigorous licensing procedures, spun the technology into the engineering and manufacturing on a more rigorous basis, more heavily invested in. In other words, to understand what you're holding in the way of a technology.


Nebeker:

Who was John Moll's supervisor there?


Holonyak:

John Moll's supervisor was Andy Anderson, who just wrote to me and I wrote back to him, and I could see his brain's getting addled because he had me pegged as coming from somewhere else. Then Andy reported to Jack Morton, but I hardly ever saw Andy. Jack Morton was on our back constantly because he'd hear we had something new, and he'd be right there wanting a demonstration. I can remember there with Joe Kleimack we're looking at a new Si transistor, and Joe Kleimack dropped a big cigarette ash past me, and it crashed down there. He says, "Don't get mad, Nick. Don't get mad." I said, "Jack is coming in in a half hour, and we're going to show him this." "That's all right. It's going to work! It's going to work!" You know. [Laughter] We had direct constant dealings with Jack Morton.


Nebeker:

Was he very supportive?


Holonyak:

Yes, but he was a feisty, rough and tough guy. And if he disagreed with you, he could send you off in the wrong direction simply because he was Jack Morton, you know. John Moll was a smarter man. John Moll was the one that was smooth and could see what we had to do and why we had to do it. John Moll is not given as much credit as he should be given for being the guy that was selling the right message. I maintain that silicon technology got really cranked up because of John Moll. See, he knew that we had to work silicon because we had to make switching devices. Germanium would never make good switching devices--too leaky. And silicon in the off state is off sufficiently that it's almost an ideal material. And then comes the oxide and what you could process because of the oxide (the Si surface and its oxide), then all hell is going to break loose. Incidentally, you have to give Bell some credit, though. When I went in the Army (Fall, 1955), the attorneys warned me I could talk about anything, but I could not talk about oxide masking, the (Si) oxide. And that was going to be played out very slowly, very carefully. They took fifty or sixty million dollars in licensing fees. They really should have set that up to see that that was going to be a critical technology and play that out into the hundreds of millions. You see, it wasn't that they didn't understand it. They didn't understand how big it was going to be. That's the thing I'm complaining about. And even when I got out of the Army and went to GE (1957), I had people tell me at GE, oh, hell, go back in the laboratory and fool around. Have you seen how real devices are made by alloying and tunnel ovens and things like that? There were people who were totally wrong and didn't see what was going to happen. And incidentally, that's why it was possible for a Silicon Valley to start with people who were total beginners.


Nebeker:

Because you had these players who moved aggressively.


Holonyak:

Who didn't understand. Right. IBM made a disastrous mistake in assuming that they could build everything out of automated production processes to make germanium alloy transistors and whatnot, and that the few things they would need out of silicon, they could buy from a little start-up called TI down in Texas. You never hear of a couple of the people who were responsible for that: One of them, Lloyd Hunter, who wound up years later at Rochester, and then dropped into oblivion. And another one, Gunther-Mohr--I've forgotten his first name--vanished. Totally wrong. IBM was so powerful in business and whatnot, that they could overcome that. They never admit now anything that was such an early error. In other words, they could come in, they could force their way in later because of their business strength and laboratory strength and whatnot. But they didn't make the right decisions. Bell had made many of the more correct decisions, but being the kind of monopoly they were, they weren't very good about getting from Bell Labs into Western Electric into high volume production, and hitting the real-world market at real costs. See, they were so protected by their monopoly that they were living in their dream world. That just made it possible for people like the Sonys and everybody else to come in, coming in late, coming in with technology that they were getting from people like Bell and whatnot, to walk in. And people like the start-ups on the West Coast to take this very same Bell technology and run away with it.

One of the arrogances of the big companies and the management up there is that anybody below them is lesser --automatically. Because they think "look at where I am? I'm the big boy up at the top, you see." And that kind of thing can permeate so many places. Dave Packard's one I know who overcomes that. He knows that he doesn't know the next business, so he farms it out to those 40-year-olds who have that background and the energy and whatnot to understand it, and then reincorporates it back into the company. If that doesn't work, he's just had a business write-off. If it does work, his company has grown bigger. I almost joined one of those (1961). If John Moll had come out of Stanford University at the time, I would have gone with Packard, and that's now his components division. It's now a half a billion-dollar division. I'm not sorry about it because when I came out of the Army, I went to GE, and for about two or three months I thought, "My God! What have I done?" I realized my boss didn't know anything. Nice man, but he didn't know anything. And that panicked me.

Then after a bit, I got into other kinds of things, and if I knew I could go into GE and give them six years like those six years, I'd make them write me a big contract. Because I wound up working on the controlled rectifier, got to the shorted emitter, got to the thing which is the triac and the symmetrical switch. If that work had been done here, every controlled rectifier, every thyristor has shorted emitters in it. That's how you get stability, from temperature and from dv/dt, from false turn on. And everyone of those half billion dollars of thyristors out there annually has a shorted emitter in it. If that patent were here, that 1 or 2 percent would be a lot of money here at the University of Illinois. To GE that was a very valuable piece of work. I claimed that. I claimed the red LED because we got onto that before anybody else. And see, that was a government project that Bob Hall and I had. My boss really wanted me to work on silicon and threatened he was going to fire me for working on 3-5 compounds. But what came out of it was Bob Hall beat me by a little bit to lasers in Schenectady, but I was making the alloy which was the thing that made the red LED and whatnot, and just slightly behind him in getting the laser. So we got the semiconductor lasers first, we got the LED's first, we got the shorted emitter and the triac and all of that first. I couldn't have asked for anything more than that, you know. I had no right to expect more than that. Then we've got into some things here first that have been really nice items.

Students' achievements

So from the standpoint of a career, I'm totally happy about what's happening. I'd be happier yet if you don't make the mistakes that you make in life and if you don't-- I came here and tore tendons off of my arm. I had back surgery. Things that had never happened to me before in my life had suddenly started happening to me. In other words, they started tearing my body up, [Laughter] and now it starts decaying on me. So if those things didn't get to me, then what we do is fun, you know. It's a great joy. And if you asked me then, well, would I have done anything else? No. I wouldn't have changed my life. I wouldn't have done something else. I wouldn't have chosen to go into chemistry. I wouldn't have chosen to go into nuclear work or that kind of stuff, you know, physics and all that kind of baloney. No. Because electronics, that this electronics has made possible so much, that if you could put a piece of it together, you've made a contribution. And at this point, Rik, four of my students are members of the Academy of Engineering, and two more, I'm sure, are bound to make it. Don Scifres in the Spectra Diode Labs has done the kind of work that should make him a member of the Academy of Engineering. And George Craford who leads LED work for Packard in the components division, George has done some-- The yellow LED out there is George's work, and he's sooner or later going to be a member of the Academy. So there are four there, and I'm sure two more are going to make it. And I'm not even talking about the younger ones. I mean I'm pretty happy about that. Not everybody am I going to lay big claims on, but some of my grad students have been just so good. Incidentally, that's the one thing that I don't agree with folks on today. They're spooking these kids. There is as much to do, there's still a lot to do. And even though a lot has been done, there's a lot of things we don't know how to do well yet and have to require being done. There's a lot of stuff in optical that isn't ready and hasn't been done. Scifres and his people are making high-power lasers out of semiconductors into the hundreds of watts range. You wouldn't have dreamt of that when we made the first laser diode (1962). The semiconductor is running away from the other lasers. And the semiconductor hasn't run through its full course on all of that. That remains to finish, to do further. It remains to get it from “red” through “orange” through “yellow” through “blue”. “Blue” is being experimented with, but “blue” isn't here in good shape yet. All of that remains to be done.


Nebeker:

So though the technology's mature in a way, there's plenty--


Holonyak:

There's a lot more there. And there's a lot more facets to it. There's plenty of reason to educate these kids and say, Hey look, there's more to do.