Dr. John Bardeen, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics of the University of Illinois, had a profound influence on the technical and scientific life of his time. With Walter Brattain and William Shockley he was co-inventor of the transistor, an invention which has changed dramatically the course of modern electronic technology. In 1957 he collaborated with L. N. Cooper and J. R. Schrieffer in the development of the microscopic theory of superconductivity, his outstanding contribution to contemporary physics. This theory is now recognized as providing a correct account of superconductivity in solids, a phenomenon first discovered by Kammerlingh-Onnes in 1911, nearly fifty years earlier.
Bardeen was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on 23 May 1908, the son of Dr. Charles R. and Althea Harmer Bardeen. His father was professor of anatomy and dean of the University of Wisconsin Medical School at Madison. Bardeen received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1928 and 1929.
After working (1930-1933) as a geophysicist with the Gulf Research and Development Corporation on methods of interpretation of magnetic and gravitational surveys, be began graduate work in mathematical physics in 1933 at Princeton University under the direction of Professor Eugene Wigner. His interest turned to solid state physics and be was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1936 for research on the theory of the work function of metals. From 1935 to 1938 he was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University working with Professor Bridgman and with Professor Van Vleck, who earlier at Wisconsin introduced him to the study of quantum theory. At Harvard he worked on problems dealing with cohesion of solids, electrical conduction in metals, and level density of nuclei. At this time he began to ponder and develop some of the ideas critical to what later became the successful microscopic theory of superconductivity.
In 1939 Bardeen took the position of assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota. During World War II he was a civilian physicist at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and was concerned with the influence fields of ships. In 1945 he joined the solid state research group at Bell Telephone Laboratories where in addition to the historic invention of the transistor he made fundamental contributions to all aspects of semiconductor theory including, most notably, understanding of the surface. In 1951 he went to the University of Illinois, where he continued his theoretical and experimental studies and with his students and colleagues developed the now famous BCS theory of superconductivity. At Illinois he continued to contribute his remarkable abilities, experience, and creative intuition to problems in solid state and semiconductor physics, and beyond to practical applications.
For his invention of the transistor Bardeen was designated as Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1956, together with W. H. Brattain and W. Shockley. Some of his other honors include the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (1952) and the John Scott Award and Medal of the City of Philadelphia (1955), both with Dr. W. H. Brattain; the Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society (1954); the Fritz London Prize (1962); the Vincent Bendix Award (1964); the National Medal of Science (1964); the Michelson-Morley Award (1968); and honorary doctorates from Union College (1955), University of Wisconsin (1960), Rose Polytechnic University (1966), Western Reserve (1966), University of Glasgow (1967), and Princeton University (1968). He received the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1971, "For his profound contributions to the understanding of the conductivity of solids, to the invention of the transistor, and to the microscopic theory of superconductivity."
He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1954) and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He served also as Council member, Vice President elect (1966), and President (1968-1969) of the American Physical Society. From 1959 to 1962 be served as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee and later served on the Presidential Patent Committee.
John Bardeen was one of the first to recognize the importance of the xerographic process, was one of the principal advisors to the Xerox Corporation during the development of practical Xerox machines, and is now on the Xerox board of directors. Beyond his great theoretical abilities, his colleagues stand in awe of his uncanny understanding of the world of practicality and its special demands and importance in the affairs of man.
He was a man of unusual humility and was as accessible to students as to Presidents. Wherever Bardeen travels and the game of golf is played his renown as a golfer quickly approaches his reputation as physicist, inventor, and friend of the people. He was held in special, fond regard by his students, colleagues, and friends. (Editor's Note: He died on 30 January 1991.)
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