Jack Kilby, inventor of the computer chip

KERA Television has a marvelous short film profile of Jack Kilby, who won the Nobel in physics for his invention of what we now call “the computer chip.”

Late in his life, Jack Kilby holds his first integrated circuit, which is encased in plastic. Photo via Texas Instruments, via Earth & Sky

Late in his life, Jack Kilby holds his first integrated circuit, which is encased in plastic. Photo via Texas Instruments, via Earth & Sky

Teachers should check out the film and use it — it’s a great little chapter of Texas history, science history, and U.S. history.  It’s an outstanding explanation of a technological development that revolutionized so much of our daily life, especially in the late 20th century.  At 8 minutes and 37 seconds, the film is ideal for classroom use.

Alas!  My technology won’t allow embedding the video here, and so far as I can tell it is only available in broadcast on KERA and at KERA’s website.  So, go there and look at it!  If you can download it for use, more power to you — and let us know in comments how you did it.
[2015 update: Good news! KERA put the film up on YouTube! Teachers, especially Texas history teachers, take note, and copy URL!]

2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Kilby’s filing for a patent on an integrated circuit.  He’s been honored by the Inventor’s Hall of Fame.  Despite the stupendous value of his invention, Kilby’s name is far from a household name even in North Dallas, home of Texas Instruments. Robert Noyce, who came up with almost exactly the same idea at almost exactly the same moment, is similarly ignored.

Shouldn’t today’s high school students know about Kilby and Noyce?  Not a class period goes by that I don’t use a device powered by Kilby’s invention; nor does one pass that I don’t have to admonish at least one student for misuse of such a device, such as an iPod, MP3 player, or cell phone.  It’s difficult to think of someone whose invention has greater influence on the life of these kids, hour by hour — but Kilby and his invention don’t get their due in any text I’ve seen.

It’s a great film — original and clever animation, good interviews, and it features Kilby’s charming daughter, and the great journalist and historian of technology T. R. Reid.  Don’t you agree that it’s much better than most of the history stuff we have to show?

Texas history standards require kids to pay brief homage to inventors in the 20th century.   Kilby is not named in the standards, however, and so he and his invention are ignored as subjects of history study.  You ought to fix that in your classroom, teachers.

(Kilby was born and grew up in Great Bend, Kansas — Kansas teachers may want to take note.  According to the KERA film, Kilby was a Boy Scout, making it at least to First Class.)

TI company video on Kilby featuring interviews from the 1990s, prior to his 2000 Nobel Physics Prize

Additional Resources

TI company video on the 2008 50th anniversary of the chip

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3 Responses to Jack Kilby, inventor of the computer chip

  1. […] has a couple of other films I really like, inc;uding “The Million Dollar Monarch,” and “The Chip that Jack Built,” a joyful honorific to the Jack Kilby who invented the integrated circuit and won a Nobel for […]


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