32. Germanium: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Silicon gets all the press, but germanium was the real trailblazer of the Information Age.

Featured above: One of Bell Lab’s publicity photos promoting the transistor, featuring John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. “Boy, Walter hates this picture,” Bardeen told a reporter several years later. “That’s Walter’s apparatus and our experiment, and Bill didn’t have anything to do with it.’ “

Show Notes

Germanium was the second of Mendeleev’s predictions to come true, after gallium. If any doubt in Mendeleev’s periodic table after gallium, germanium squashed it.

As for neptunium, Herman’s discovery turned out to be some improperly identified niobium, so the name was freed up again a few years later when the element in between uranium and plutonium needed a name.

I couldn’t really get into exactly how transistors work, as it’s a little beyond the scope of this short episode. It also benefits from some visual aid. Once again, Veritasium does a good job explaining it for us:

The “traitorous eight,” as Shockley called them, went on to become giants in the field — as close to household names as electronics can become, including Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel.

Click To Read Transcript


  1. American Physical Society, John Bardeen, William Shockley, Walter Brattain. Alaina G. Levine.
  2. PBS.org, Transistorized! This verbatim description of Shockley’s first attempt is replicated in all sorts of media, but it all seems to point back to this source.
  3. PBS.org, Transistorized! Shockley, Brattain, Bardeen.
  4. IP Watchdog, Evolution of the Transistor. Steve Brachmann, April 3, 2017.
  5. The Disappearing Spoon, p. 40-44. Sam Kean, 2010.
  6. The New York Times, William B. Shockley, 79, Creator Of Transistor And Theory On Race. Wolfgang Saxon, August 14, 1989.
  7. All About Circuits, Jack Kilby And The World’s First Integrated Circuit. Tim Youngblood, September 16, 2017.
  8. Texas Instruments, The Chip That Jack Built.
  9. This is a really rough calculation assuming a volume of 75ml per vacuum tube, with some assistance from Wolfram Alpha.
  10. PeriodicTable.com, Germanium. Theodore Gray.

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