Around the Dallas campus of Texas Instruments, Jack Kilby is known as the humble giant, a nod to his modesty and his six-foot, six-inch frame. But he’s a giant in terms of his accomplishments too: As the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, otherwise known as the silicon microchip, he’s the one we have to thank for everything from electronic watches to personal computers to cellular phones.
These days Kilby is still thinking big, dreaming up new applications for his little chip. At 76, he’s in good health; the thick glasses, hearing aids, and halting speech are the only signs of his age. Every morning just after seven-thirty, he leaves his house—the same one he bought when he first went to work for TI in 1958—and drives his shiny new Lexus to his North Dallas office, where he does a little consulting. And once a week he goes to TI, where he advises engineers.
How Kilby changed the course of high-tech history is one of the industry’s most storied tales. After earning degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin, the Jefferson City, Missouri, native went to work at Milwaukee-based Centralab, helping to develop a ceramic-based circuit to be used in consumer electronics. But after eleven years, he realized that the future was in silicon, so he took a job as a project engineer at TI.
Kilby was assigned to study ideas for miniaturizing the electric circuit. He started work just before many of his co-workers and his boss were taking off for summer vacations. Alone in the lab,