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How Europe Missed The Transistor

The most important invention of the 20th century was conceived not just once, but twice

14 min read
photo of Herbert Mataré
Invention and Inventors: In Paris, shortly after World War II, two German scientists, Herbert Mataré (above) and Heinrich Welker, invented the “tran- sistron,” a solid-state amplifier remark- ably similar to the transistor developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories at about the same time. In this X-ray image of a commercial transistron built in the early 1950s, two closely spaced metal point contacts, one from each end, touch the surface of a germanium sliver. A third electrode contacts the other side of the sliver. Mataré is now retired and living in Malibu, Calif.
Photo: Gusto Images

In late 1948, shortly after Bell Telephone Laboratories had announced the invention of the transistor, surprising reports began coming in from Europe. Two physicists from the German radar program, Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker, claimed to have invented a strikingly similar semiconductor device, which they called the transistron, while working at a Westinghouse subsidiary in Paris.

The resemblance between the two awkward contraptions was uncanny. In fact, they were almost identical! Just like the revolutionary Bell Labs device, dubbed the point-contact transistor, the transistron featured two closely spaced metal points poking into the surface of a narrow germanium sliver. The news from Paris was particularly troubling at Bell Labs, for its initial attempts to manufacture such a delicate gizmo were then running into severe difficulties with noise, stability, and uniformity.

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Practical Solid-State Batteries Using Pressure

Mechanical stress exploits workaround to electrochemical failure

4 min read
Illustration shows a grey disk  with two metal circles on each end and a thin piece of metal attached to each. Thin grey strips branch out of one of them. Above and below the disk are illustrative red arrows facing the disk.

Researchers solved a problem facing solid-state lithium batteries, which can be shorted out by metal filaments called dendrites that cross the gap between metal electrodes. They found that applying a compression force across a solid electrolyte material (gray disk) caused the dendrite (dark line at left) to stop moving from one electrode toward the other (the round metallic patches at each side) and instead veer harmlessly sideways, toward the direction of the force.

MIT

Solid-state lithium-ion batteries promise to prove more safe, lightweight, and compact than their conventional counterparts. However, metal spikes can grow inside them, leading to short-circuit breakdowns. Now a new study finds that applying pressure on these batteries may prove a simple way to prevent such failures.

Conventional batteries supply electricity via chemical reactions between two electrodes, the anode and cathode, which typically interact through liquid or gel electrolytes. Solid-state batteries instead employ solid electrolytes such as ceramics.

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IEEE President’s Note: Looking to 2050 and Beyond

The importance of future-proofing IEEE

4 min read
Photo of K. J. Ray Liu
IEEE

What will the future of the world look like? Everything in the world evolves. Therefore, IEEE also must evolve, not only to survive but to thrive.

How will people build communities and engage with one another and with IEEE in the future? How will knowledge be acquired? How will content be curated, shared, and accessed? What issues will influence the development of technical standards? How should IEEE be organized to be most impactful?

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