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MIT’s Accomplished Alumni and Alumnae, Transistor, William Shockley, 1956

With more than 190,000 alumni and counting, it’s no surprise that MIT’s graduates are distinguished in every field or that the Institute likes to celebrate that fact. MIT’s influence extends well beyond Cambridge as alumni gravitate to the great high-tech regions of the world. Silicon Valley attracts many MIT alumni, few of whom realize that the area’s identity was shaped considerably by one alumnus in particular. After finishing his PhD at MIT in 1936, William Shockley joined Bell Laboratories. Together with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, he invented a solid-state transistor capable of amplifying power. The three men received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work. However, after lengthy patent debates, Shockley left Bell Laboratories, eventually heading a semiconductor laboratory in Mountain View, California. As employees from that lab left to form their own companies, a network of high-tech firms—including Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, and National Semiconductor—began to grow across the Santa Clara Valley, creating employment for even more MIT alumni.

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