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Witness to the World of William Shockley

January 13, 2002

Your issue about California and the Nobel Prizes was fascinating, particularly the article about the triumphs and tragedies of William Shockley ("The Twisted Legacy of William Shockley," by Michael A. Hiltzik, Dec. 2). I knew Shockley in the 1950s when I was a beginning patent attorney at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J. In the mid-'50s I often lunched with Harry Hart, patent attorney extraordinaire and the dean of our staff of 75 patent attorneys. At one lunch, [physicist] Walter Brattain and Shockley joined us. As a junior attorney, I sat and listened to this august group.

The subject, raised by Shockley, was his plan to leave the laboratories and set up his own research laboratory. Both Brattain and Hart tried to dissuade him. I clearly recall Brattain saying, "You are a research scientist and not an entrepreneur. You belong here, or maybe you would be happier affiliated with a university." I detected only sincere interest and concern on the part of Brattain for the well-being of Shockley.

At Bell Labs we had a very close scientific relationship with MIT--more than we did with Stanford or Caltech. What if Brattain and Hart had been successful in their appeal to Shockley? The birthplace of the semiconductor and the integrated circuits industry might well have been called the Silicon Highway, referring to the technology center along Route 128 around Boston.

John E. Wagner

Glendale

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