SUNNYVALE, Calif. Semiconductor industry veterans Robert Widlar and Jean Hoerni were honored Monday (Oct. 4) with a commemorative statue on the grounds Maxim Integrated Products here. The commemorative statue was sponsored by Maxim and city officials.
The ceremony was hosted by Maxim's President and CEO Jack Gifford and featured industry luminaries like Intel's Gordon Moore, Linear Technology Corp. founder Robert Dobkin and Dave Fullagar, Maxim's founder. All Worked with Widlar and Hoerni.
Widlar was lauded as the father of the modern analog IC industry, which is currently a $70 billion enterprise, according to Gifford. While working at Fairchild Semiconductor during the 1960s, Widlar was the first to engineer an analog IC. Prior to the introduction of the μA702, integrated circuits were used to build low-level logic circuits, Gifford recalled.
While Widlar's vision encompassed analog "accuracy and speed: digital couldn't do that!" the Colorado-bred engineer understood analog ICs would require a reworking of the amplifier circuits to make them compatible with semiconductor manufacturing processes. They also required a reworking of the fabrication processes to accommodate analog. Gifford said he was proud that Widlar chose him to be the product manager for his ICs, adding that Widlar trusted no other marketing man with his vision.
Fullagar disputed an implication in a 1991 magazine article that Widlar had invented the Internet: "We all know that Al Gore did that," he quipped. Fullagar describe how Widlar pressed Fairchild for the fabrication advances (epitaxial deposits, doping and isolation mechanisms) that would allow him to build a nine-transistor amplifier (the μA702) and the world's first IC operational amplifier (the μA709) on a single substrate. (Fullagar himself is credited with the development of the μA741, the first fully-compensated IC op amp.)
Fullagar said a military contractor, Bendix Corp., was so impressed with Widlar's achievement that it agreed to buy Fairchild's entire production run of 709s for $183 a piece.
Bob Dobkin, who had worked with Widlar at National Semiconductor Corp. in the 1970s, and later at LTC, said that despite Widlar's fun-loving reputation, the IC designer was a perfectionist: "No Widlar IC was ready to sell until it was perfect," he said. "The customer for the part should have nothing to complain about except its price."
Sunnyvale statue honors Jean Hoerni and Robert Widlar
Another Fairchild alumnus, Swiss-born Jean Hoerni was honored as a scientist and entrepreneur who developed the planar processes which made ICs more manufacturable. Before the planar process, ICs were made exclusively with a chemical etching process known as the "Mesa technique" which left the transistor junctions exposed and vulnerable to contamination.
Hoerni who is also credited with developing the first field-effect transistors (FETs), the first matched transistor input stages, and one of the first digital watches (a concoction of timers and counters) encouraged Fairchild to cover transistor junctions with protective oxide layers. Chemical etching and high-temperature diffusions could ultimately burrow under the oxide layers if needed. By protecting the transistor junctions, the planar process made ICs mass producible, Fullagar said.
Intel's Moore recalled how Hoerni, a naturalist and mountain climber fresh from a teaching post at Cal Tech, clashed with this earliest Silicon Valley employer, the controversial William Shockley. "You don't just push a Nobel laureate aside," Moore said.
Moore and Hoerni collaborated on the development of Mesa transistors at Fairchild. Moore was the project manager for NPNs; Hoerni was project manager for PNPs.
Moore said there is little question that Hoerni's process developments were cornerstones in the $200-billion global semiconductor industry.
For all his knowledge of timers and counters, and for all the semiconductor industry's dependence on military contracts at the time, Moore said Hoerni steadfastly refused to contribute to the development of timing fuses for land mines.