Robert Norton Noyce was a Silicon Valley pioneer who cofounded Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation. He also co-invented the Integrated Circuit and introduced the microprocessor – both of which have revolutionized technology and electronics as we know today. Noyce was born 0n December 12, 1927 to Reverend Ralph Brewster and Harriet May Norton, and raised in Grinnell, Iowa along with his three brothers. He displayed a talent for creating and inventing things from his childhood. At the age of 12, he built a small aircraft with his brother, which the boys used to fly from the nearby rooftops. He also built a radio by himself and added a washing machine motor to his sled to make it run on its own. Noyce was an intelligent student and did well at mathematics and science. In his senior year at Grinnell High School, he took a freshman physics course at Grinnell College. He graduated from High School in 1945 and started college in fall.
At college, Noyce performed exceptionally well, both academically as well as in extracurricular activities. He was the star of the swim team, played music, sang and acted in college plays. In his junior year, he was suspended for one semester due to a prank; he stole a pig from the farm of the mayor of Grinnell, and might have been expelled if Grant Gale, his physics professor and the president of Grinnell College, hadn’t intervened on his behalf. Noyce graduated with honors, receiving his BA in physics and mathematics in 1949. During one of his classes, Gale demonstrated one of the first transistors ever to be made at Bell Labs. Noyce was so fascinated that he chose this as the subject of his dissertation during his Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he completed in 1953.
His first job was as a research engineer at the Philco Corporation in Philadelphia. After this he left to work for Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in California. Soon however, Robert Noyce, along with several of his coworkers, began doubting the competence of the present management and attempted to force Shockley to resign. Shockley was not removed but Noyce and seven of his colleagues left to start their own company. This was the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in Santa Clara, a division of the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company. At Fairchild, Noyce co-invented the Integrated Circuit (that is, a complete circuit put together on a single piece of silicon called a “wafer”). Both Noyce and Jack Kilby, an employee of Texas Instruments Incorporated, received the patent for this technology. Noyce received an additional patent for inventing the “planar process”, which was a revolutionary production technique for making Integrating Circuits. In all, Noyce held a total of 15 patents.
In 1968, Noyce, along with his coworkers Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove, left Fairchild to start another company by the name of Intel Corporation. Intel was the first company to produce microprocessors, which were small chips that could both store and process information. Intel is still the leading producer of microprocessors today. Noyce served as the President of Intel until 1975, and thereafter the chairman of the board of directors until 1978, after which he left to serve as the chairman of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). He also helped to establish an association named Sematech, which was a forum for government and industry to collaborate on issues of mutual concern, and served as its first president in 1988.
Robert Noyce died on June 3, 1990 at the age of 62. He was married twice and had four children. He enjoyed reading, flying, swimming, music and scuba diving. He received several awards and honors including the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1978, the Charles Stark Draper Prize awarded by the National Academy of Engineering, the National Medal of Technology awarded by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and appointment as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980.