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Introducing the Vacuum Transistor: A Device Made of Nothing

This curious mash-up of vacuum tube and MOSFET could one day replace traditional silicon

11 min read
Illustration: Chad Hagen
Illustration: Chad Hagen

In September 1976, in the midst of the Cold War, Victor Ivanovich Belenko, a disgruntled Soviet pilot, veered off course from a training flight over Siberia in his MiG-25 Foxbat, flew low and fast across the Sea of Japan, and landed the plane at a civilian airport in Hokkaido with just 30 seconds of fuel remaining. His dramatic defection was a boon for U.S. military analysts, who for the first time had an opportunity to examine up close this high-speed Soviet fighter, which they had thought to be one of the world’s most capable aircraft. What they discovered astonished them.

For one thing, the airframe was more crudely built than those of contemporary U.S. fighters, being made mostly of steel rather than titanium. What’s more, they found the plane’s avionics bays to be filled with equipment based on vacuum tubes rather than transistors. The obvious conclusion, previous fears aside, was that even the Soviet Union’s most cutting-edge technology lagged laughably behind the West’s.

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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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The Device That Changed Everything

Transistors are civilization’s invisible infrastructure

2 min read
A triangle of material suspended above a base

This replica of the original point-contact transistor is on display outside IEEE Spectrum’s conference rooms.

Randi Klett

I was roaming around the IEEE Spectrum office a couple of months ago, looking at the display cases the IEEE History Center has installed in the corridor that runs along the conference rooms at 3 Park. They feature photos of illustrious engineers, plaques for IEEE milestones, and a handful of vintage electronics and memorabilia including an original Sony Walkman, an Edison Mazda lightbulb, and an RCA Radiotron vacuum tube. And, to my utter surprise and delight, a replica of the first point-contact transistor invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Shockley 75 years ago this month.

I dashed over to our photography director, Randi Klett, and startled her with my excitement, which, when she saw my discovery, she understood: We needed a picture of that replica, which she expertly shot and now accompanies this column.

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Fourth Generation Digitizers With Easy-to-Use API

Learn about the latest generation high-performance data acquisition boards from Teledyne

1 min read

In this webinar, we explain the design principles and operation of our fourth-generation digitizers with a focus on the application programming interface (API).

Register now for this free webinar!

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