John Bardeen The Nobel Prize in Physics 1972

biography

John Bardeen was born in Madison, Wisconsin, May 23, 1908. He attended the University High School in Madison for several years, and graduated from Madison Central High School in 1923. This was followed by a course in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, where he took extra work in mathematics and physics. After being out for a term while working in the engineering department of the Western Electric Company at Chicago, he graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1928. He continued on at Wisconsin as a graduate research assistant in electrical engineering for two years, working on mathematical problems in applied geophysics and on radiation from antennas. It was during this period that he was first introduced to quantum theory by Professor J.H. Van Vleck.

Professor Leo J. Peters, under whom his research in geophysics was done, took a position at the Gulf Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Bardeen followed him there and worked during the next three years (1930-33) on the development of methods for the interpretation of magnetic and gravitational surveys. This was a stimulating period in which geophysical methods were first being applied to prospecting for oil.

Because he felt his interests were in theoretical science, Dr. Bardeen resigned his position at Gulf in 1933 to take graduate work in mathematical physics at Princeton University. It was here, under the leadership of Professor E.P. Wigner, that he first became interested in solid state physics. Before completing his thesis (on the theory of the work function of metals) he was offered a position as Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He spent the next three years there working with Professors Van Vleck and Bridgman on problems in cohesion and electrical conduction in metals and also did some work on the level density of nuclei. The Ph.D. degree at Princeton was awarded in 1936.

From 1938-41 Dr. Bardeen was an assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and from 1941-45 a civilian physicist at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C. His war years were spent working on the influence fields of ships for application to underwater ordnance and minesweeping. After the war, he joined the solid-state research group at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and remained there until 1951, when he was appointed Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Physics at the University of Illinois. Since 1959 he has also been a member of the Center for Advanced Study of the University. Dr. Bardeen's main fields of research since 1945 have been electrical conduction in semiconductors and metals, surface properties of semiconductors, theory of superconductivity, and diffusion of atoms in solids. The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 1956 to John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley for "investigations on semiconductors and the discovery of the transistor effect," carried on at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. In 1957, Bardeen and two colleagues, L.N. Cooper and J.R. Schrieffer, proposed the first successful explanation of superconductivity, which has been a puzzle since its discovery in 1908. Much of his research effort since that time has been devoted to further extensions and applications of the theory. Dr. Bardeen died in 1991.

An Industrious Job Offer

Brattain and Bardeen on the golf course John Bardeen had met William Shockley when they were both in school in Massachusetts. In 1945, when World War 2 ended,

Shockley was put in charge of a new research group at Bell Labs and he wanted Bardeen on the team. Since Bell offered Bardeen twice his salary at Minnesota, Bardeen didn't have to think long about the offer. John and Jane Bardeen, along with their three young children, moved to New Jersey. Bardeen also knew another member of the group, Walter Brattain, from his grad school days. Bardeen was introduced to Walter Brattain by Bardeen's good friend Bob, Walter's brother. Over the years their friendship grew, both in the lab and on the golf course where they spent time on the weekends. The two made a great team, with Brattain putting together the experiments and Bardeen weaving theories to explain the results.

The First Transistor

In the spring of 1947, Shockley set Brattain and Bardeen a task: explain why an amplifier he'd devised didn't work. At the heart of this amplifier was a crystal of silicon (they would switch to germanium several months later). To figure out what was going on, Bardeen had to remember some of the quantum mechanics research that had been done on semiconductors while he was at Princeton in the 1930s. He had also come up with some new theories himself. By observing Brattain's experiments, Bardeen realized that everyone had been assuming electrical current traveled through all parts of the germanium in a similar way. That was wrong: electrons behaved differently at the surface of the metal. If Brattain and Bardeen could control what was happening at the surface, the amplifier should work. It took them until the end of 1947, but on December 23 the pair succeeded. They had built the first point-contact transistor. Things Begin to Sour After the invention of the transistor, the mood in the lab took a turn for the worse. Shockley resented the fact that he missed the invention. He went to work on his own, developing the improved, more stable junction or sandwich transistor. Relationships fell apart completely when Shockley blocked Bardeen from working on things that interested him. By 1951 Bardeen had started looking for a new job. When his friend Fred Seitz convinced the University of Illinois to make Bardeen an offer of $10,000 a year, he left Bell Labs with little regrets. In a memo to Mervin Kelly he wrote: "My difficulties stem from the invention of the transistor. Before that there was an excellent research atmosphere here."

Bardeen at University of Illinois

Allowed to Follow His Own Path The University of Illinois lured John Bardeen with the one thing he wanted most the right to research whatever he wanted. Bardeen decided to work on superconductivity, which had begun to interest him in his last days at Bell Labs. The Nobel Prize On the morning of Thursday, November 1, 1956, John Bardeen was making breakfast and listening to the radio. As he scrambled his eggs, he heard a newscaster announce that the Nobel Prize in physics had been awarded to him, Brattain, and Shockley for the invention of the transistor. Bardeen dropped the frying pan and ran into the bedroom to tell his wife Jane the news. The Nobel ceremony took place in Sweden on the evening of Monday, December 10. Shockley arrived late, with his wife and mother in tow. Bardeen and Brattain spent the time together getting ready. Bardeen had to borrow an extra white vest and white tie for his formal suit from Brattain since Bardeen's had turned green at the laundry. Then the nervous pair shared a bottle of quinine to settle their stomachs. They received their awards that night from King Gustav VI and then adjourned for a great banquet in their honor. After dinner, Brattain, Bardeen, their families, and Swedish friends sat around a table at their hotel celebrating. Towards the end of the night, Shockley walked in and was invited to join the party. For one night, the group was together again. The three men remembered the days when they had been friends and a phenomenal research team. John Bardeen brought only one of his three children to Stockholm so as not to disrupt the other two sons' studies at Harvard. King Gustav scolded Bardeen about leaving his family behind on such an important occasion. He assured the King that the next time he would bring all his children.

A Second Nobel

By then, Bardeen was much more fascinated by the research that was taking up his time in Illinois: superconductivity. In 1957, along with post-doctoral student Leon Cooper and graduate student Bob Schrieffer, Bardeen developed the first theory on how extremely cold metals are able to conduct electricity so efficiently. To this day, this theory is known as the BCS theory (for Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer). In 1972, the three men were awarded a Nobel for their work. John Bardeen became the only person in history to have received two Nobel Prizes in physics. And he did bring all his children to the next Nobel ceremony. Bardeen lived out the rest of his years in Urbana, teaching, researching, and playing his favorite sport: golf. He died in 1991 at the age of eighty-two.

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