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Thank you, Mr. Chips(谢谢你,芯片先生)
时间:2006年09月21日15:57 我来说两句  

 
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  Thank you, Mr. Chips

  Ever heard of Jack Kilby? Clue: His invention changed yourlife.ByT.R. Reid from Reader‘s Digest

  For anybody who ever flunked a math test, somethingmarveloushappened in Stockholm last Decr 10. A soft-spoken fellowfromKansas—a guy who was turned down by MIT because his mathscoreswere too low and who never had much formalphysicstraining—received the Nobel Prize in physics. This isslightlyanomalous, because Jack St. Clair Kilby is not aphysicist.

  The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was willing to overlookthatminor detail though, because Kilby did, after all, come upwith themost valuable invention of the past half-century: themicrochip.Jack Kilby’s idea sparked the information age.

  The tiny silicon chip at the heart of all digital deviceshasarguably become the most important industrial commodity sincecrudeoil. Without it, there could be no personal computer or cellphone,no Internet or Playstations. The semiconductor integratedcircuithas changed the world as fundamentally as did the lightbulb, thetelephone and the horseless carriage. But somehow the manwho madethe microchip has never achieved the recognition thatEdison, Belland Ford enjoyed. Now at age 77, Jack Kilby may receivetheattention he deserves, thanks to the Nobel Prize.

  JACK ST. CLAIR KILBY grew up in Great Bend, Kan. His father ranalocal electric utility, and Jack decided at Great Bend HighSchoolthat he, too, would be an electrical engineer. He set hissights onthat mecca for budding engineers, MIT. So in the summer of1941,Jack boarded a train to Cambridge, Mass., to prepare forMIT’sentrance exam.

  He flunked.

  Six decades later, with five dozens patents in his name, withhispicture hanging along with Edison’s in the National InventorsHallof Fame, with virtually every engineering prizes on hisshelves,Kilby still remrs that failure. “The minimum passing gradewas500,” Kilby recalls, “and I got 497.”

  A few months later World War II began, and Corporal Kilbywasassigned to the radio repair shop at a U.S. Army outpost on ateaplantation in India. After V-J Day, he went to the UniversityofIllinois, majoring in “double E”: electrical engineering. It wasaheady time in electronics. In 1947, three Americans inventedthetransistor, the first commercially important semiconductordevice.In short order, there were courses on quantum physicsandsolid-state circuits—for physics majors only.

  “They weren’t going to expose that funny stuff tosimple-mindedengineers,” Kilby says.

  Upon graduation Kilby went to work for asmallelectronic-components maker called Centralab, for theexcellentreason that it was the only electronics firm that offeredhim ajob. After a few years Kilby sent an application toTexasInstruments in Dallas, and was thrilled to be hired in 1958.He was34.

  TEXAS INSTRUMENTS was already an important company, althoughnotnearly as big and rich as Kilby would make it. The firm putKilbyto work on the most important problem in electronics—known as“theinterconnections problems,” or “the wiring problem.”

  Inspired by the transistor, engineers were designing circuitsfornew electronic devices—high-speed computers powerful enough torunworld-wide communication networks or steer rockets to the moon.Butthese high-tech marvels existed only on paper and called formilesof wire and millions of soldered connections. Nobody couldbuildthem.

  All over the world, engineers were searching for a solution.TheArmy, Navy and Air Force spent millions of dollars on theproblem.But Jack Kilby had one great advantage: “I was theignorantfreshman in the field. I didn’t know what everybody elseconsideredimpossible, so I didn’t rule anything out.”

  Sitting in the semiconductor lab, Kilby came up with theanswer:eliminate the wires. It was such a daring break with thehistory ofelectronic circuits that he first thought it couldn’twork. But herealized all the basic elements of a circuit could bemade of thesame material—silicon. And if all of the elements couldbe carvedinto a single slice of that material, then theinterconnectionscould be laid down, or even printed, on a littlesilicon chip.Nowires. No soldering. And that meant a huge number ofcomponentscould be compressed into a tiny space. You could put awholecomputer circuit on a chip the size of a baby’sfingernail.

  On July 24, 1958, Kilby scrawled this idea in his labnotebook:“The following circuit elements could be made on a singleslice:resistors, capacitor, distributed capacitor, transistor.”That’sthe sentence that brought its author the Nobel Prize.

  For an engineer it wasn’t enough just to write down the idea.“Ascientist wants to understand things,” Kilby once said.“Anengineer wants to make things work.” And so one of the lab’snewestengineers timidly asked his boss if he could build a testmodel ofhis “integrated circuit.” The boss agreed, but didn’t wantto wastebig money. He told Kilby to construct simple circuit calledaphase-shift oscillator. This common device turns directcurrentinto alternating current.

  On Septr 12, a group of Texas Instruments brass showed up inthelab to see if Jack Kilby’s curious little circuit-on-a-chip wasthereal thing.

  Kilby was nervous as he hooked up various wires. He checkedtheconnections. He checked them again. He took a deep breath. Hegavea here-goes-nothin’ shrug. He turned on the power.

  Instantly a bcenter green snake of light started slitheringacrossthe screen, representing an undulating sine curve fromthealternating current. The microchip had worked. A new erainelectronics was born.

  Several months later another American, Robert Noyce, arrivedatroughly the same solution. Noyce’s approach turned out to beeasierto manufacture. Accordingly, Bob Noyce is generally describedasco-inventor of the chip. Noyce went on to co-found Intel,themultinational microprocessor giant, and would no doubt besharingthe Nobel Prize with Kilby, had he not died in 1990, forNobelprizes are not awarded posthumously.

  JUST 43 YEARS AGO, the microchip didn’t exist. Today,theintegrated circuit market is a $177-billion global industry,andthe chip is ubiquitous.

  As for Jack Kilby, the American who launched atechnologicalrevolution? He has never accrued large amounts ofmoney, and thishasn’t bothered him. He is an engineer, aproblem-solver, and hehas continued taking on universally importantproblems. Heco-invented one of the first significant consumerapplications ofchip technology—the hand-held calculator. He triedto build a cheapsolar cell that would turn sunshine intoelectricity. The Kilby“electronic check writer,” Patent No.3920979, has yet to earn itsfirst dime.In Dallas, Jack Kilby issomething of a celebrity thesedays; the media like to refer to himas “the Texas Edison.” Butmost of his countrymen have never heardof him.

  Somehow our media-saturated society, with its insatiableappetitefor new faces, has managed to overlook a genuine nationalhero—JackSt. Clair Kilby, a man who improved the daily lot of thewholeworld with a good idea. (接下页)

  谢谢您, 芯片先生

  可曾听说过杰克·基尔比? 线索:他的发明改变了你的生活。

  T· R · 瑞德 著

  邹红云 译

  对任何一个曾经数学考试不及格过的人来说,去年12月10日(指2000年,译者注)在斯德哥尔摩发生了一件奇妙的事。一个来自堪萨斯说起话来轻声细语的人—该伙计曾因数学考分太低而没被麻省理工学院录取,并且从未受到过物理方面的正规训练—获得了诺贝尔物理学奖。这件事有点异乎寻常,因为杰克·圣克莱尔·基尔比不是物理学家。

  然而瑞典皇家科学院愿意忽略这个无关紧要的细节,因为毕竟基尔比作出了过去半个世纪中最有价值的发明:微芯片。杰克·基尔比的思想激发了信息时代。

  处于所有数码装置心脏的小小的硅芯片已颇有理由成为自原油以来最为重要的工业用品。没有它,就不会有个人电脑或移动电话,不会有因特网或PS游戏机。半导体集成电路就如同电灯泡、电话和无马马车一样使世界发生了根本的变化。然而,不知为什么,制造出微芯片的这个人却从未得到过象爱迪生、贝尔和福特所享有的公认。如今,77岁的杰克·基尔比因诺贝尔奖可以受到他应得的重视了。

  杰克·圣克莱尔·基尔比在堪萨斯州的大本德市长大。他父亲经营一家当地的电气公司,杰克在大本德中学时就决定也要成为一名电气工程师。他的眼睛盯着大家梦寐以求的麻省理工学院,这个工程师成长的摇篮。于是在1941年的夏天,杰克登上了开往马萨诸塞州坎布里奇市的列车,准备参加麻省理工学院的入学考试。

  他没有考上。

  60年后,尽管科尔比名下已有了60项专利,在全国发明家名人堂里他的相片与爱迪生的挂在一起,书架上放着几乎所有工程类奖项,他仍然记得那次失败。“最低录取线是500分,”基尔比回忆道,“我得了497分。”

  几个月后,第二次世界大战开始了,基尔比下士被派到位于印度一个茶叶种植园里的陆军前哨无线电修理部。抗日战争胜利日以后,他上了伊利诺斯大学,主修“双E”:电机工程。那时正是电子学发展迅猛的时期。1947年,三位美国人发明了晶体管,这是商业上第一个重要的半导体装置。很快,学校里就有了量子物理和固态电路课程—却只为物理专业学生开设。

  “他们是不会把那么有趣的东西传授给头脑简单的工程师的。”基尔比说。

  基尔比一毕业,就到一家名为“中心实验室”制造电子元件的小公司工作,其绝妙的原因是:那是唯一一家给了他工作的电子公司。几年后,基尔比向达拉斯的德克萨斯仪器公司发去了求职信。1958年,他被雇佣了,异常高兴。那时他34岁。

  德克萨斯仪器公司当时已是一家重要的公司,虽然还远不如基尔比日后使它成为的那样规模大且富有。公司让基尔比研究电子学方面最重要的问题—称作互联问题”,或“布线问题”。

  受到晶体管的启发,工程师们正在为新的电子装置设计电路,即功能强大足以使全球通讯网络运转或能控制火箭飞往月球的高速计算机。然而这些高技术的奇迹还只是纸上谈兵,它们需要数英里的电线和成百上千万个焊接点,没有人造得出来。

  全世界的工程师们都在寻找解决的办法。陆军、海军和空军在这个难题上已花费了数百万美元。但是杰克·基尔比有一个极大的优势,“我在这一领域里是个一无所知的新手。我不知道哪些是别人认为不可能的,所以我不排除任何东西。”

  坐在半导体实验室里,基尔比想出了解决这个问题的答案:去掉电线。这在电子电路历史上是个大胆的突破,以至开始时他认为不行。但他意识到电路的基本元件都可以用同一种材料制作—硅。如果一切元件都能刻在一片那种材料上,那么线路就能布在或甚至印刷在一小块硅芯片上。

  没有电线。没有焊接。这就意味着数量庞大的各种元件可以被压缩在很小的空间里。你可以将整台计算机的电路放在婴儿手指甲大小的芯片上。

  1958年7月24日,基尔比将这个想法草草地写在实验室的笔记本上。“以下这些电路元件可做在一个单片上:电阻器、电容器、分散电容器、晶体管。”正是这句话给它的作者带来了诺贝尔奖。

  对于一名工程师来说,仅仅写下这个想法是不够的。“科学家想要弄懂事物。”基尔比曾说过,“工程师则想让事物运作起来。”于是,这个实验室里最新来的工程师中的一员怯怯地问老板,自己能否做一个“集成电路”的试验模型。老板同意了,但不想花大本钱。他告诉基尔比做个称作相变震荡器的简单电路。这个普通的装置能将直流电转化为交流电。

  9月12日,得克萨斯仪器公司的一帮大人物出现在实验室里,他们想看看杰克·基尔比那神奇的小芯片电路是不是真家伙。

  基尔比在连接多根电线时很紧张。他检查了各接点。他又检查了一遍,深深地吸了口气。他耸了耸肩,应该没什么问题了。他接通了电源。

  立刻一道明亮的绿光开始弯弯扭扭地扫过屏幕,这代表着由交流电产生的起伏的正弦曲线。微芯片成功了。电子学的新时代就此诞生。

  几个月后另一位美国人罗伯特·诺伊斯得出了大致相同的解决方法。诺伊斯的方案制造起来更加容易。因而,鲍伯·诺伊斯通常被称作芯片的共同发明人。诺伊斯接着又与人共同创立了英特尔,这个跨国的微处理器巨人。要不是他于1990年去世的话,无疑他会和基尔比共享诺贝尔奖,因为诺贝尔奖不授予已辞世之人。

  仅在43年前,微芯片并不存在。如今,集成电路市场是一个拥有1770亿美元的全球性产业,其中芯片无处不在。

  而杰克·基尔比这位发动了技术革命的美国人怎么样了呢?他从未蓄过大财,但这并不使他苦恼。他是个工程师,是问题的解决者。他继续承担了许多世界性的重大难题。他与人共同发明了芯片技术中首批有意义的消费类应用之一—手提式计算器。他花工夫研制过能将太阳光转化为电的廉价太阳能电池。基尔比的“电子支票书写仪”,专利号3920979,还未开始上市赢利。

  在达拉斯,杰克·基尔比这些天象个名人,众媒体喜欢把他称作“德克萨斯的爱迪生”。但大多数他的同胞还不曾听说过他。

  不知怎么地,我们这个充斥着媒体、不断渴求新面孔的社会,竟然忽略了一位真正的民族英雄——杰克·圣克莱尔·基尔比,他以一个好主意将整个世界日常的一切作了改进。

  注释:

  1.horseless carriage:常指老式汽车。第一辆汽车问世时, 当时称之为“无马马车”。

  2.Mecca 麦加(沙特阿拉伯西部, 穆罕默德诞生地, 伊斯兰教第一圣地)。开头字母小写,指众人渴望去的地方。

  3.Jack Kilby?(1923年11 月8日—2005年6月20日) (编辑:赵露) 2


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