How Bell Labs Missed the Microchip

The man who pioneered the transistor never appreciated its full potential

14 min read
Photo: AT&T Archives and History Center
Photo: AT&T Archives and History Center

img Flawed Hero: Jack A. Morton led Bell Labs’ effort to transform the transistor from a research curiosity into a commercial product. But his aversion to microchips would later cost AT&T dearly. Photo: AT&T Archives and History Center

At 4:15 a.m. on 11 December 1971, firemen extinguishing an automobile blaze in the New Jersey hamlet of Neshanic Station were shocked to discover a badly charred body slumped face-down in the back seat. It proved to be the remains of Jack A. Morton, the vice president of electronic technology at Bell Telephone Laboratories, in Murray Hill, N.J. He had last been seen talking with two men at the nearby Neshanic Inn just before its 2 a.m. closing—about 100 meters from the abandoned railroad tracks where his flaming Volvo sports coupe was spotted. Local police quickly arrested and booked the men for murder.

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Engineers Are Working on a Solar Microgrid To Outlast Lunar Nights

Future lunar bases will need power for mining and astronaut survival

4 min read
A rendering of a lunar base. In the foreground are rows of solar panels and behind them are two astronauts standing in front of a glass dome with plants inside.
P. Carril/ESA

The next time humans land on the moon on the moon, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base at which astronauts can live and work.

One of the crucial elements for a functioning lunar base is a power supply. Sandia National Laboratories, a research and development lab that specializes in building microgrids for military bases, is teaming up with NASA to design one that will work on the moon.

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Trilobite-Inspired Camera Boasts Huge Depth of Field

New camera relies on “metalenses” that could be fabricated using a standard CMOS foundry

3 min read
Black and white image showing different white box shapes in rows

Scanning electron microscope image of the titanium oxide nanopillars that make up the metalens. The scale is 500 nanometers (nm).

NIST

Inspired by the eyes of extinct trilobites, researchers have created a miniature camera with a record-setting depth of field—the distance over which a camera can produce sharp images in a single photo. Their new study reveals that with the aid of artificial intelligence, their device can simultaneously image objects as near as 3 centimeters and as far away as 1.7 kilometers.

Five hundred million years ago, the oceans teemed with horseshoe-crab-like trilobites. Among the most successful of all early animals, these armored invertebrates lived on Earth for roughly 270 million years before going extinct.

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