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Brothers of Invention

2 min read

As the more distinguished electrical engineers and applied physicists go, Herbert F. Mataré is in many ways typical. He was educated as World War II was breaking out and did his first professional work on radar. After the war, he moved through a succession of increasingly responsible research and management jobs, developing semiconductor and optoelectronic devices. Along the way he wrote a definitive text about defect electronics in semiconductors, which won him recognition as an IEEE Fellow. Eventually, he would settle comfortably in Malibu, Calif., where he now divides his time between consulting and travel, often back to his native Germany.

But one big thing makes Mataré different from his peers among IEEE Life Fellows. In 1948, working with just one other scientist in a house outside Paris, he invented the transistor. True, Bardeen and Brattain beat him and his collaborator Heinrich Welker to the punch with the point-contact transistor they had devised in 1947, and Shockley with the field-effect transistor. But before AT&T officially announced the point-contact device, Mataré and Welker had invented essentially the same thing--working by themselves, without the resources of the world's premier research laboratory [see " How Europe Missed the Transistor" in this issue].

It was in Nazi Germany's underappreciated radar program that Mataré first worked with crystal rectifiers. Soon after the war, he was hired by a Westinghouse subsidiary and sent to Paris, along with Welker, to develop germanium rectifiers. Subsequently, he returned to Germany to work, and in 1953, at a trade fair in bombed-out Düsseldorf, his firm demonstrated the first portable transistor radio--a year ahead of the famous Texas Instruments receiver that would get everybody's attention.

Inventing what Mataré and Welker called the transistron months after the AT&T team had already gotten the job done with its revolutionary device wasn't going to win them a Nobel Prize. But their achievement is worth much more than just a historical footnote.

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