Episode #4 of the course “Unknown Scientists Who Changed The World”
John Bardeen was the first man to win two Nobel Prizes in physics. He also appeared on LIFE Magazine’s 1990 list of “100 Most Influential Americans of the Century.” The invention that led to Bardeen’s first Nobel is responsible for almost every modern electronic device, from telephones to computers to missiles.
Bardeen was born in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S. in 1908. He graduated from high school at the age of 15 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1923. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, he went on to earn a Master’s of Science in the same subject in 1929. After working as a geophysicist for a few years, he entered a graduate program at Princeton University and earned a Ph.D. in mathematical physics in 1936. He passed away of heart disease in 1991.
Bardeen’s first Nobel Prize came in 1956. Along with William Shockley and Walter Brattain, he invented the transistor. This invention kick-started a revolution in electronics and allowed the Information Age to occur. The transistor replaced vacuum tubes, which were used in almost all electronics but were bulky and much larger. Without the transistor, we wouldn’t have been able to manufacture the miniaturized components that exist in phones and computers today.
His second Nobel came in 1972 for the BCS theory. Along with colleagues Leon Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer, Bardeen advanced a fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity. This theory found modern applications in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
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