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Walter H. Brattain

Walter H. BrattainAKA Walter Houser Brattain

Born: 10-Feb-1902
Birthplace: Amoy, China
Died: 13-Oct-1987
Location of death: Seattle, WA
Cause of death: Alzheimer's
Remains: Buried, Pomeroy City Cemetery, Pomeroy, WA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Co-Inventor of the transistor

American physicist Walter H. Brattain spent most of his career investigating the atomic structure of materials at their surfaces, and worked with John Bardeen at Bell Laboratories, where they worked on a project to better understand semiconductors and use them to amplify signals. In 1947 they invented the first transistor, sharing credit with their supervisor, William Shockley, who almost immediately invented the junction transistor. The transistor replaced bulky and expensive vacuum tubes in electronic devices, leading to the first tubeless radio introduced in 1954, it retailed for $49.95, not including the $12 battery. Transistors, of course, allowed the subsequent development of computers, cell phones, fax machines, satellites, and virtually all of modern electronics.

Brattain was born in China to American parents, raised in small towns in Oregon and Washington, and later worked on a cattle ranch his father purchased and operated. He rode to his grade school on horseback, five miles each way, and when hard times struck during his teens he dropped out of high school to work at the ranch. He was able to return to school the following year, but transferred to a school near Seattle, because his home town high school was unaccredited. With financial help from his aunt he attended tiny Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and became the college's only Nobel laureate when he shared the 1956 honor in physics with Bardeen and Shockley. He tombstone is engraved with the Y-shaped circuitry and schematics symbol for the transistor.

Father: Ross Rudolph Brattain (cattle rancher, b. 8-Oct-1874, d. 1-Mar-1961)
Mother: Ottilie Houser (b. circa 1877, m. 7-May-1901)
Sister: Mari Brattain
Brother: R. Robert Brattain (physicist)
Wife: Keren Gilmore Brattain (chemist, m. 1935, d. 1956 cancer, one son)
Son: William Gilmore Brattain (puzzle designer)
Wife: Emma Jane Kirsch Miller (m. 1958)

    High School: Queen Anne High School, Seattle, WA (attended 1915-16)
    High School: Tonasket High School, Tonasket, WA (attended 1916-18)
    High School: Moran School, Bainbridge Island, WA (1920)
    University: BS Physics, Whitman College (1924)
    University: MA Physics, University of Oregon (1926)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Minnesota (1929)
    Scholar: National Defense Research Council, Columbia University (1942-44)
    Teacher: Physics, Whitman College (1962-72)

    National Institute of Standards and Technology 1928-29
    Bell Laboratories Research & Development (1929-41)
    Office of Scientific Research and Development (1942-44)
    Bell Laboratories Research & Development (1944-67)
    Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Medal 1952 (with John Bardeen)
    John Scott Medal 1955 (with John Bardeen)
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1956 (with John Bardeen and William Shockley)
    National Inventors Hall of Fame
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Physical Society
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    Franklin Institute
    International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
    IEEE
    National Academy of Sciences 1959
    Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Foreign Member)
    Risk Factors: Alzheimer's


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