National Academies Press: OpenBook

Memorial Tributes: Volume 12 (2008)

Chapter:Willis Alfred Adcock

« Previous: Front Matter
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

Memorial Tributes


NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

WILLIS ALFRED ADCOCK
1922–2003

Elected in 1974


“For contributions to the advancement of silicon material and device technology.”


BY SANJAY BANERJEE, EARL SWARTZLANDER, AND DAVID BEER

SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY


WILLIS ALFRED ADCOCK was born in St. John’s, Quebec, Canada, on November 25, 1922, and died in Austin, Texas, on December 16, 2003. He immigrated to the United States in 1936 and became an American citizen in 1944. Dr. Adcock was an inventor, physicist, electrical engineer, and educator. After a distinguished career with Texas Instruments (TI), he became a professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at the University of Texas (UT) in 1986. In the same year, he was appointed to the Cockrell Family Regents Chair, a position he held until becoming chair professor emeritus in 1993.

After graduating high school in upstate New York, Dr. Adcock attended Hobart College, where he earned a B.S. cum laude in 1943. In 1944, he joined the U.S. Army and became a member of the technical staff of the Clinton Laboratories at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he was a very junior member of the team that worked on the development of the atomic bomb. He loved to tell the story of when an army officer took him into Knoxville, found a federal judge, and ordered that G.I. Adcock be naturalized so he could be given security clearance. The judge could only ask for his name, rank, and serial number.

After the war, Dr. Adcock pursued graduate studies at Brown University, where he received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1948. Once he graduated, he was a technical staff member for Stanolind Oil and Gas Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, until

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

1953, when he joined TI, where, as manager of the Development Department and Integrated Circuits Department, he made significant contributions to his field. He recruited Jack Kilby and then supported the research that led to the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958.

Dr. Adcock’s work at TI included growing the first silicon boule, which enabled the construction of the silicon transistor, thereby making the company a world leader in semiconductors. This achievement, by Dr. Adcock and his colleague Gordon Teal, was a technological tour de force, because silicon was much more difficult to purify and crystallize than germanium, which was the element then used for transistors. The technological impact of silicon transistors on microelectronics cannot be overemphasized.

In May 1954 at the National Conference on Airborne Electronics, Drs. Adcock and Teal presented a seminal paper entitled “Some Recent Developments in Silicon and Germanium Materials and Devices” describing the first working silicon transistors. In Crystal Fire, a book by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson (W.W. Norton and Co., 1997), the authors describe how they demonstrated the superior electronic properties of silicon and the reduction of electrical leakage at high operating temperatures. They first dunked an amplifier made of germanium transistors into hot oil, causing a record player to stop working instantly. When an amplifier made of brand new silicon transistors was dunked into the same oil, the record player continued emitting the dulcet tones of Artie Shaw’s “Summit Ridge Drive.” Silicon transistors rapidly supplanted prevailing germanium devices. To take just one example, silicon devices were a godsend for the development of military electronic hardware that had to function in environmentally extreme conditions.

Dr. Adcock left TI briefly in 1964 to work as technical director for Sperry Semiconductor in Norwalk, Connecticut, but he returned to TI in 1965 as manager of advanced planning and technical development. He was later made assistant vice president and finally vice president of corporate staff from 1982 to 1986. He retired from the company in 1986 as vice president and principal fellow.

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

Dr. Adcock then moved to Austin, Texas, where he held the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in ECE at UT. Dr. Adcock established a vigorous research program on semiconductor manufacturing and developed a graduate course on statistical process control and design of experiments. When SEMATECH, the research consortium, was created to reestablish U.S. leadership in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of Japanese competition, Drs. Adcock and Al Tasch were instrumental in establishing the SEMATECH Research Center of Excellence at UT. Dr. Adcock was the founding director of the center, which led to fruitful interactions between the university and SEMATECH. In 1993, Dr. Adcock became chair professor emeritus of the ECE department.

Dr. Adcock was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and American Chemical Society. He was also a member of Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa and a principal fellow of Texas Instruments. In 1989, he was awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, Hobart College. Among his many other accomplishments, Dr. Adcock held a number of basic patents for digital photography and, at the time of his death, was working on a unique torque converter. His first patent in this area was issued on June 3, 2003, just seven months before he died.

Thus, even in retirement, he was as active as ever. He served for a time as president of both the TI Austin Retirees Club and the Austin English Speaking Union. He was a member of the McDonald’s Observatory Visitors Council, and he and his wife, Sara, often attended performances by the Austin Symphony and Austin Lyric Opera. The couple also loved to travel and made numerous trips, including tours of the British Isles and Ireland, with groups from their church, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.

Dr. Adcock married Eleanor Goller in 1943, and the couple had four children before Eleanor passed away. In December 1970, he married Sara McCoy. Everyone who knew Willis would happily concur with the description of him by T.R. Reid in his

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

classic book, The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution (Simon and Schuster, 1984). Willis Adcock was “a zesty sprite who talks a mile a minute and still can’t keep up with his racing train of thought.” Those who knew him best would agree that these were the marks of the brilliant mind of a warm and lovable human being.

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×

This page intentionally left blank.

Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page1
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page2
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page3
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page4
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page5
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page6
Suggested Citation:"Willis Alfred Adcock." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Memorial Tributes: Volume 12. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12473.
×
Page7
Next: Robert Adler »
Memorial Tributes: Volume 12 Get This Book
×
Buy Hardback | $107.00
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

This series contains short biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Engineering.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!