JF Ptak Science Books Post 1370
One of the things I love about working my way through old scientific journals is when I find the issue that I'm looking for and scroll down the list of contributors to find the significant article that I want. Long list, usually; and then, after making my way through 30 or 40 lines of tight type of the index I find it. [This by the way is one of those experiences that is being replaced by the digital library.] Even though the paper on pp 1208 through 1226 of the 15 April 1949 issue of The Physical Review looks like any other, it is today seen as revolutionary. The entry for "Physical Principles Involved in Transistor Action" by John Bardeen (two-time Nobel in physics) and Walter Brattain (Nobel '72) shows up about halfway down the index, sandwiched in some very good company (Enrico Fermi's "Origins of Cosmic Radiation" and a number of others), and does not show up bolded, or highlighted, or with an asterisk. Such is the nature of publication in the academic journal world, everything delivered with equal weight. (The original publication is available for purchase here at our blog blookstore.)
It makes me wonder though how it would've felt to open this journal for the first time back there in mid-April '49, turning to page 1210 to see the microphotograph of the cutaway of a model of the transistor. This was the defining technical publication on the transistor1, which was the first massive step towards microminiaturization and the explosive new growth in the computer, allowing far more powerful machines to be designed in far less space, in far less amounts of time, and on and on. It is one of the first steps in the Information Revolution, moving the computer from massive racks of electronic tubes to more simple, elegant, nimble and by-far faster circuit boards with transistors (and resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, etc.) to make an electronic circuit. This would be the standard for computer construction, only supplemented by Jack Kilby (TI) and Robert Noyce (Fairchild Camera) in 1958/9 with the integrated circuit, where transistors are made smaller still and produced in groups on circuit boards rather than individually.
The photo above shows a cutaway of the transistor, and is the first time it was published--the first photo of what was one of teh 20th century's greatest inventions.
1. The paper was published simultaneously in the Bell System Technical Journal; Bardeen and Brattain were with the Bell Labs. The Bell journal also contained another revolutionary paper in the same volume, Claude Shannon's "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems", which is one of the most important early papers on electronics and cryptology. (We also have a copy of this classic paper for sale at our blog bookstore site.)