John Bardeen Biography

(American Physicist, Engineer and the Only Person to Win the Nobel Prize in Physics Twice)

Birthday: May 23, 1908 (Gemini)

Born In: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

The only person to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice, John Bardeen was an American physicist and one of the co-inventors of the transistor. A qualified electrical engineer, he also propounded a fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity along with physicists Leon N Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer. His inventions in the field of physics led to a revolution in the electronics industry as it was the transistor that paved the way for further research and development in information and communication technology. His contributions to the scientific world are of immense significance and he was counted among LIFE Magazine's list of "100 Most Influential Americans of the Century” in 1990. Even as a young boy Bardeen was exceptionally intelligent and performed brilliantly at school. Tragedy struck when his mother became ill with cancer and died leaving him heartbroken. His father quickly remarried adding to the boy’s unhappiness. Nonetheless he faced this tragedy bravely and went on to study engineering. It was while working at Bell Labs that he invented the transistor along with some colleagues which led to his first Nobel Prize victory. A few years later he again won the Nobel Prize for his theory of superconductivity. He is among the only four people to win the coveted prize twice.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Jane Maxwell

father: Dr. Charles Russell Bardeen

mother: Althea Harmer Bardeen

Born Country: United States

Physicists Electrical Engineers

Died on: January 30, 1991

place of death: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

U.S. State: Wisconsin

Notable Alumni: University High School, University Of Wisconsin

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

Cause of Death: Heart Disease

City: Madison, Wisconsin

discoveries/inventions: Invented Transistor

More Facts

education: Princeton University, University Of Wisconsin, University High School

awards: Stuart Ballantine Medal (1952)
Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize (1954)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1956)

National Medal of Science (1965)
IEEE Medal of Honor (1971)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1972)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (1987)
Harold Pender Award (1988)

Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 23 May 1908, in Wisconsin, as the second son of Dr. Charles Russell Bardeen and his wife Althea Harmer Bardeen. He father was the dean of the University of Wisconsin medical school while his mother too was an educated woman who had studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
John’s brilliance was evident from a young age. He was so intelligent for his age that his parents decided to have him skip several grades at school.
His mother became ill with cancer when he was 12. His father did not tell the boys that their mother was dying and John was shocked when she died. His father, in an attempt to provide the boys a normal family life, quickly remarried.
Even though shattered by his mother’s death and father’s remarriage, he somehow faced the situation with courage, focusing on his studies. He graduated from Madison Central High School in 1923 and entered the University of Wisconsin in the fall of the same year.
He earned his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1928 and M.S. the very next year. He had chosen engineering as he felt this field held promise.
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He moved to Pittsburgh in 1930 to work for the Gulf Research Laboratories, the research arm of the Gulf Oil Corporation. He worked there as a geophysicist till 1933.
He wanted to further his studies and applied to the graduate program in mathematics at Princeton University where he studied both mathematics and physics as a graduate student.
He was still writing his thesis under physicist Eugene Wigner when he was offered a position as Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University in 1935.
In 1935, he stared working with the eminent physicists John Hasbrouck van Vleck and Percy Williams Bridgman on problems in cohesion and electrical conduction in metals.
He received his Ph.D in mathematical physics from Princeton in 1936 and continued working at Harvard till 1938.
He became an assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota in 1938 and served there till 1941 when he left the job to join the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington D.C. as a civilian physicist during the World War II. He worked there till 1945.
After the war he began working at Bell Labs where he was a member of a Solid Physics Group. Along with his colleagues William Shockley and Walter Brattain he researched on how semiconductors conduct electrons. This research eventually led to the development of the transistor in 1947.
He was offered $10, 000 a year by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1951 which he accepted after leaving Bell Labs. He assumed the position of Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Physics.
He established major research programs in the Electrical Engineering Department and Physics Department. His first research student was Nick Holonyak who eventually went on to invent the first LED.
He became the Professor Emeritus at Illinois in 1975. Throughout his life he remained involved in academic research.
Major Works
He played a pivotal role in the development of the transistor along with Walter Brattain and William Shockley. The transistor became the primary building block of various other electronic devices and led to more research and development in the field of electronic communication.
Awards & Achievements
John Bardeen, along with William Shockley and Walter Brattain, shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 “for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect".
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics once more in 1972, this time shared with Leon N Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer "for their jointly developed theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory".
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Jane Maxwell in 1938. His wife was a biologist who taught at a girls’ high school. The couple had three children and he was a very devoted family man.
In spite of all his professional achievements, Bardeen was a very simple and unassuming person. He was a good-natured and friendly man who loved playing golf.
He died of heart disease on January 30, 1991 at the age of 82.
He is the only person to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice.
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