The Irresistible Transistor

Fifty years ago this month, a man embraced his inner hobbyist and gave thousands of engineers their first transistor

12 min read
Jack Ward, curator of the online Transistor Museum.

Jack Ward (above), curator of the online Transistor Museum, proffers a pile of unmarked half-size Raytheon germanium hearing-aid transistors, vintage mid- to late 1950s, that he bought on eBay for a few cents each.

Photo: Larry Volk

Is it possible to love a transistor? Certainly what Jack Ward feels for the Raytheon CK722, the first transistor sold to the general public, goes beyond casual affection. He's collected thousands of early transistor specimens, including dozens of CK722s. His stately yellow Victorian home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brookline, Mass., has a basement crammed with enough code oscillators, Geiger counters, radios, hand-wrought circuit boards, transistorized hearing aids, subminiature vacuum tubes, diodes, resistors, and capacitors to make any collector of vintage electronic gear drool. He's written one book about the CK722 and has started another about early transistor history at RCA. When he's not working as associate director of quality for the Bedford, Mass., facility of gene-chip maker Affymetrix Inc., he's busy maintaining his virtual Transistor Museum on the Web and is widely acknowledged by fellow collectors as a techno-anthropologist par excellence.

“My wife's very supportive, and my younger two children think it's fairly amusing, and probably not a bad way to have a mid-life crisis," says Ward of his family's reaction to his passionate pursuit of transistor history. Far from thinking that his dad's a square, Ward's oldest son, Nick, who is pursuing a B.A. in physics, is learning a lot from his old man. “Nick can't believe how fast technology changes and that the people I talk to have changed the world," adds Ward, who as curator of the online museum has shifted his focus from collecting early transistors to collecting oral histories from the engineers who sparked the Semiconductor Era.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

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, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base where 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.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

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.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less