Jack Kilby, integrated circuit inventor

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Jack Kilby, the inventor of the integrated circuit that lies behind a trillion-dollar electronics market, has died at the age of 81.

Texas Instruments, his employer at the time of his invention in 1958, said the Nobel Prize winner died in Dallas on Monday after a brief battle with cancer.

Robert Noyce, co-founder of chipmaker Intel, made a similar silicon-based invention shortly after Mr Kilby and the two are now considered co-inventors of ICs.

Mr Kilby is also credited as co-inventor of the handheld calculator and the thermal printer, but he will be best remembered for cracking the problem created by the invention of the transistor in 1947.

Transistors replaced bulky and unreliable vacuum tubes but, as engineers hand-soldered more complex circuits using them, the circuit boards became more costly and prone to failure.

Soon after joining TI in 1958, the electrical engineer came to the conclusion that “semiconductors were all that were really required that resistors and capacitors, in particular, could be made from the same material as the active devices [transistors],” he later wrote.

“I also realised that, since all of the components could be made of a single material, they could also be made in situ interconnected to form a complete [integrated] circuit.”

He demonstrated this to TI management with a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium, but it was several years before the invention gained credibility with defence industry orders and with the commercial success of TI's handheld electronic calculator.

Without ICs, man would never have landed on the moon and computers would not have progressed beyond mainframes to today's desktop and mobile versions. Tom Engibous, TI chairman, said on Tuesday: “In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Jack Kilby.

“If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack's invention of the first integrated circuit.”

His achievement was recognised with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000. IC sales totalled $179bn in 2004, according to World Semiconductor Trade Statistics, and supported sales of electronic devices worth $1,186bn in 2003.

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