Thursday, September 27, 2007

The invention changed the world, but where was the patent?

Further to discussion of Shockley and of the transistor history, IPBiz notes the existence of a book The Invention that Changed the World that does not mention the word "patent". Although the invention discussed is radar, the book delves into the transistor story, although not mentioning the patent saga or the name Lilienfeld.

Some quotes relevant to the problem of the absorption of microwaves by water (recounted to me in first year chemistry at the University of Chicago):

At page 237: "It appeared that Van Vleck, who would later win a Nobel Prize, had been off the mark."

On page 340: "No one heeded the junior scientist's [Townes'] warning."

p. 342: "Policy makers had ignored Townes's warnings about how water vapor absorption might disrupt radar."

The long ago UofC lecture had made it appear that the people in the radar program were unaware of the water absorption problem with K band microwaves for radar, when in fact there had been a study by Van Vleck which was inaccurate. Later warnings by Townes (also to win the Nobel Prize) were apparently ignored.

The book also has text relevant to Townes and "freedom to research" at the Bell Labs of the 1940s:

At page 344: [Townes] had also failed to convince Bell management his spectroscopy work was important enough to warrant additional researchers. The head of the physics department had even admonished him for persisting with requests for a bigger budget: "you've made a lot of people annoyed because you are talking about what you would like to do. You ought to be talking about what is good for the company."

Author Robert Buderi really missed the boat in the transistor saga by not recognizing the early work by Lilienfeld.


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