Walter L. Brown


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Walter L. Brown was born into physics, his father being a professor at the University of Virginia. The family trade seemed an obvious choice, and thus, after a stint in the Navy’s V-12 program, he enrolled in the physics department of Harvard University, where he completed his PhD under the purview of Nobel Laureate Ed Purcell.

Without so much as a season of rest, Brown joined Bell Labs with the diploma yet to be framed and mounted. His early work was dedicated to measuring the conductivity of crystallized Germanium, a semi-conductor of choice at the time. Brown made pioneering observations of the field effect on surface conductance and the inversion layers at the surface of a semiconductor, and the relation of these properties to the chemical environment of the surface. This research was significant to the subsequent development of transistors and other silicon based devises.

Later in the 1950s, Brown helped Bell Labs develop a research program in nuclear power, and then contributed to important work on the interaction of ion beams with solids, a technology which significantly advanced the industrial production of silicon semiconductors.

In 2002, Brown retired from Bell Labs to join as a adjunct Professor at Lehigh University.

Further Reading

To read Walter Brown's story in his own words, see Bell Labs Memoirs: Voices of Innovation