John Bardeen; Physicist Won 2 Nobels
John Bardeen, the last surviving member of the three-man team that developed the transistor and who twice won the Nobel Prize, died Wednesday. He was 82.
Catherine Foster, a spokeswoman for the University of Illinois, where Bardeen was professor emeritus, said he died at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“He had gone to see a doctor and had had exploratory surgery (Tuesday) and seemed to come through it fine, I understand,” she said. “But this morning he suffered cardiac arrest.”
Bardeen, an electrical engineer and physicist, won the Nobel Prize in 1956 as co-inventor of the transistor, and again in 1972 as co-developer of the theory of superconductivity at low temperatures.
He was the last living member of the Bell Telephone Laboratories transistor research team, which included Walter Brattain, who died in 1987, and William P. Shockley, who died in 1989.
Their work, completed in 1947, made the vacuum tube obsolete. Direct descendants of the transistor are the brain centers on devices ranging from the space shuttle to videocassette recorders and from calculators to computers.
Bardeen once told a reporter that “I knew the transistor was important, but I never foresaw the revolution in electronics it would bring.”
Yet it was the development of the theory of low-temperature superconductivity (with Leon Cooper and J. Robert Schrieffer) of which he was most proud.
“Superconductivity was more difficult to solve and it required some radically new concepts,” Bardeen said after the announcement of his second Nobel Prize.
Superconductivity, in which electricity travels with little or no resistance, helped researchers develop such medical diagnostic tools as magnetic imaging and made high-speed computers possible.
Among Bardeen’s other honors were the 1965 Medal of Science, the 1976 Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 1988 Lomonosov Prize from the Soviet Academy of Science. He also held membership in 14 professional societies and had received 16 honorary doctorates.
Last year Life magazine named him one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century, and President Bush made him one of 11 recipients of the Third Century Award for creative contributions to America.
Bardeen earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin in 1928 and 1929 and a doctorate in mathematical physics from Princeton in 1936.
He taught at the University of Minnesota, did research at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington and joined the Bell research group in physics at Murray Hill, N.J.
He joined the University of Illinois faculty in 1951 and retired in 1975.
In 1983, Japan’s Sony Corp. donated $3 million to endow a John Bardeen research and teaching chair in electrical and computer engineering at the university.
His survivors include his wife, Jane, two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.