The first transistorSixty years ago today (December 16, 1947 for those who may not read this right away) there was one transistor in the whole world. The transistor had just been invented by three physicists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA who were looking for a viable alternative to traditional vacuum tubes which were comparatively large and also consumed much more power.

The basic function of the transistor is to act as an electronic switch (without any moving parts.) By combining several of these switches it is possible to make simple decisions based on input and perform basic (binary) math.

While the transistor has at times been the target of an analog-vs-digital style debate in the music field there is no debating that the transistor has changed our world. The modern computer processor contains hundreds of millions of transistors and every pixel on an LCD display has an accompanying transistor lending a few hundred thousand more transistors to the average computer.

Every modern electronic device more sophisticated than the flashlight contains transistors, usually by the hundreds or more. The relatively small size of modern hand-held electronics (e.g. cell phones) is largely due to the ever-shrinking transistor.

Just think how many other advances have been enabled by the mainframe computer and now the microcomputer. The transistor will go down as one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century and will continue to shape our digital world for quite some time to come.

Thanks to the MAKE magazine blog for mentioning this milestone. They also point to an article from Forbes.com which makes for some good reading.

electronics, electronic, transistor, electric, computer