“Difficulty for minimum component costs has increased by about a factor of two per year… Of course, in the short term, this rate can be expected to continue, if not increase. In the longer term, growth rates are somewhat more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe that they will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. This means that by 1975 the number of components per integrated circuit at a minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer“. This is a quote from the article “Adding New Components to Integrated Circuits” that Gordon Moore published in 1965. The researcher, who made an invaluable contribution to microelectronics becoming one of the pillars of the modern world, died on March 24, 2023 at the age of 94.
On January 3, 1929, a joyful event happened in the family of San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff Walter Moore and his wife Florence Williamson — a second son was born, who was named Gordon. Of course, at that time no one could have imagined what role he would play in the history of mankind. Electrical appliances were just beginning to take over the home, and they ran on bulky, flammable, and not very efficient electric lamps. There were enough of them for radios the size of a nightstand, so that portable devices were found only in the pages of science fiction novels.
Moore’s interest in chemistry began in 1940 when he received a young chemist’s kit as a Christmas present. After leaving school in 1946, Gordon Moore studied for two years in San Jose. The state university, apparently, did not give much knowledge, but there the student met Betty, his future wife and only life partner. In 1950, Moore graduated from the University of Berkeley – the best public university in the world and the oldest of the members of the University of California — with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. There, his teachers were, among others, the future Nobel laureates Glenn Seaborg, Melvin Calvin and William Giok. Four years later, Moore defended his degree at the California Institute of Technology in chemistry and physics.
Cutting-edge technology changes so quickly that after graduation, you have to keep up with the times. I think probably the most important thing is to have a good foundation.
Moore began his scientific career at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which specializes in research commissioned by various US federal government agencies, including the Pentagon and NASA. Four years later, one of the inventors of the transistor, William Shockley, invited Moore to the company he founded, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, and from that moment on, the researcher has been working on components for microelectronics.
The Traitorous Eight
Shockley failed to lure employees from Bell Labs to his startup. Employees of the latter were not eager to move to the provincial town of Mountain View, where the production site of the new enterprise was located. Therefore, the scientist began looking for young researchers who had recently graduated from universities, whose requests were much lower than those of already established researchers. William Shockley found Gordon Moore at a meeting of the American Physical Society, and he agreed to work for the new company.
William Shockley was certainly a talented engineer and scientist, but a terribly difficult person to communicate with. He is described as an excellent theoretician, but completely immune to the opinions and interests of others. As an employee of Bell Labs, where he led the research team that designed the first transistor, Shockley was subject to the strict discipline of a large company. By founding his own company, the scientist lost the boundaries that held him back. The situation worsened after he, along with Bardeen and Brattain, was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the transistor in 1956.
In addition to organizational problems, Shockley stopped research in the field of silicon semiconductors, with which his subordinates strongly disagreed. As time has shown, the Nobel laureate made, perhaps, the biggest mistake in his life.
In September 1957, Moore and seven other employees of Shockley ran out of patience, and they decided to leave his company, founding their own. Thus was born Fairchild Semiconductor, which entered into silicon semiconductor research with $1.5 million in venture capital funding from Fairchild Camera and Instrument. Moore took the position of head of the engineering department, and from 1959 took over the leadership of the NPN transistor development team. Things went so well for Fairchild that within six months of its founding, it made its first profit by selling 100 transistors to IBM for $150 each. Venture investors in 1958 bought the company, using the right provided for in the contract.
In 1959, it was Fairchild Semiconductor that revolutionized semiconductor technology: one of its founders, Robert No ce (who, by the way, was the last to join the G8, trying to find a compromise between Shockley and the rest) invented the silicon integrated circuit and described the principle of its manufacture. His idea still underlies the production of microchips to this day.
In the 1960s, conflicts broke out between the Fairchild Semiconductor team and the Fairchild Camera and Instrument management company. The nascent Silicon Valley beckoned with opportunities for their own businesses, and one by one employees quit to start their own startup. In California, such companies began to be called fairchildren — “children of Fairchild”.
So did Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. In 1968 they founded NM Electronics. Soon the company bought the rights to the Intel brand from the hotel chain. Robert Noyce jotted down a one-page business plan on the typewriter, and a group of startups, joined by fellow Fairchild alum Andy Grove, went to pay homage to venture capitalist Arthur Rock, whom they knew from Fairchild. He agreed to provide the company with start-up capital of 2.5 million.
Gordon Moore first took the position of vice president, and then — president, chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer. It was at this time that Intel made a fateful deal with IBM, supplying the Intel 8088 processors for its first personal computer. Cooperation between the two companies became so successful that by 1983, Intel’s turnover exceeded a billion dollars, and the staff grew to 15,000 people.
Moore retired as chief executive in 1997, although he remained honorary chairman of the board until 2006. The scientist and his wife have been actively involved in philanthropy, establishing the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which supports scientific research around the world. Moore donated $600 million to Caltech, where he completed his PhD, the largest single donation in the history of the university.
It seems that the existing methodology for the production of integrated circuits has reached the limit of its capabilities, and Moore’s law is no longer valid. Symbolically, Gordon Moore passed away at the same time that the technology he dedicated it to is at its peak before giving way to a new breakthrough.