Childhood & Early Life
Robert Noyce was born on December 12, 1927 to Reverend Ralph Brewster Noyce and Harriet May Norton, in Burlington, Iowa. His father was a Congregational clergyman. Robert Noyce was the third of the four sons born to the couple.
Noyce was brought up in a religious background, what with both his parents strictly adhering to church rules and regulations. However, his increasingly irreligious attitude led him to become an agnostic later in life.
Noyce was blessed with a shrewd mind and high intelligence. Graduating from Grinnell High School in 1945, he enrolled at the Grinnell College. His talent for mathematics and science helped him earn double majors in Physics and Mathematics and a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1949.
His sharp acumen and bent for physics took his academic studies forward as he gained admission at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a doctoral program in physics. He received his doctorate degree in 1953 for a dissertation in transistors, a technology he was deeply fascinated by.
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Noyce commenced his career as a research engineer at Philco Corporation, Philadelphia. His profile included making transistors for the firm. However, his stint at Philco was brief, as he resigned after three years.
In 1956, he moved to California. Therein, he joined William Shockley’s Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. However, Shockley and Noyce’s scientific vision clashed over the poor quality of management of the former. Having failed to force Shockley out of his management position, Noyce and his seven colleagues resigned from the company, thus becoming the ‘traitorous eight’.
Leading the ‘traitorous eight’ group of researchers, Noyce successfully negotiated with Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company to co-found Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation.
At Fairchild, Noyce was involved with producing transistors and other elements on large silicon wafers. He first cut the components out of the wafer, and later connected individual components with wires. Soon, Noyce realized that cutting the wafer apart was unnecessary process. He could instead manufacture an entire circuit on a single silicon wafer, which included transistors, resistors, and other elements, thus leading to the idea of the integrated circuit.
Noyce invented the integrated chip at Fairchild. It was essentially a silicon chip with a number of transistors all etched into it at once. His discovery was no less than a revolution for the semiconductor industry.
Noyce shared the patent of Integrated Circuit design with Jack Killby, an inventor working for Texas Instruments Incorporation. Though the two shared the credit for independently inventing the integrated circuit, Noyce’s Fairchild was granted the patent on a planar process as it was his technique that was subsequently used by manufacturers.
In 1968, along with Gordon Moore, Noyce left Fairchild Semiconductor and founded Intel. Soon, they were joined by Andrew Grove, yet another Fairchild colleague. Together the trio formed the Intel Corporation.
In 1971, Intel created the world’s first commercial microprocessor chip. The microprocessor, on a single silicon chip, combined the circuitry involved for both information storage and information processing.
The invention of the microprocessor was a huge advancement of technology and yet another technological revolution by Noyce. The mammoth success of microprocessors gave Intel a strong foundation. The company soon became the leading producer of microprocessor chips.
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Until 1975, Noyce served as the President of Intel. Same year, he was made chairman of the board of directors, a position which he served until 1978.
In 1978, he became the chairman of the Semiconductor Industry Association. In this new-found position, he looked after the growing economic concern of the semiconductor industry especially in terms of foreign competition.
Noyce’s career experienced its first breakthrough while at Fairchild Corporation when he invented the integrated chip. It was a chip of silicon that had many transistors etched to it all at once. The invention revolutionized the way semiconductor industry worked until then.
Noyce second big career breakthrough came right after he founded Intel in 1968. He introduced to the world the first microprocessor and with that started the glorious era of the computer age. Microprocessor included multiple circuits on a single silicon chip, thus allowing both information storage and information processing.
In addition to inventing the integrated chip and microprocessor, Noyce is credited with setting the tone and work culture of Silicon Valley. His ‘roll up your sleeves’ management style gave employees enough room to accomplish what they desired to. He broke the stereotype of corporate culture in California and shunned strict atmosphere for relaxed working environment that was less structured and more casual.
Awards & Achievements
Over his lifetime, Noyce had over 16 patents to his name.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan conferred him with the prestigious National Medal of Technology.
In 1989, he was inducted into the US Business Hall of Fame by then President George H. W. Bush.
In 1990, during the bicentennial celebration of the Patent Act, he along with Jack Killby and John Bardeen received the highly-esteemed Lifetime Achievement Medal.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Elizabeth Bottomley in 1953. The couple was blessed with four children, William B., Pendred, Priscilla, and Margaret. After almost twenty years of marriage, the couple legally separated in 1974.
Following his divorce with Bottomley, he married Ann Schmeltz Bowers. After her stint as the Director of Personnel for Intel Corporation and Vice President of Human Resource for Apple Inc, she currently serves as the Chair of the Board and founding trustee of Noyce Foundation.
A lifelong swimmer and state level diving champion, Noyce experienced a severe heart attack following his morning swim routine on June 3, 1990. He was admitted at Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas where he breathed his last.
Posthumously, in 1991, the Noyce Foundation was founded by his family to help aid public education in mathematics and science of grade K-12 children.
His alma mater, Grinnel College named its science building after him.