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Herbert F. Mataré

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Biography

With a partner, German scientist Herbert F. Mataré has been credited with independently inventing the transistor in 1948 at a Westinghouse laboratory in Paris just months after researchers at AT&T’s Bell Laboratory demonstrated the technology in December 1947.

Mataré was born on September 22, 1912 in Aachen, Germany, and studied as an undergraduate at the University of Geneva. He received an doctorate in electrical engineering at the Technical University, Berlin, and a doctorate in physics from the École Normal Supérieure in Paris.

Although he opposed the regime, Mataré spent the years of World War II conducting research on radar technology for the German military. His team began its work at a Telefunken plant in Berlin, but his laboratory was later moved to Silesia to escape bombing raids. Mataré and his research partner, Heinrich Welker, followed a similar course as their American counterparts in developing transistor technology. Both teams initially believed that germanium had better amplification properties than silicon, and later settled on silicon as a more stable material. The Mataré-Welker effort was put on hold, however, when the team's equipment and papers were destroyed to keep them out of the hands of the advancing Russian army.

After the war, Mataré and Welker continued their research on transistors at the Westinghouse laboratory in Paris, but announced their invention of the transistor too late to receive the credit. Nevertheless, the French press celebrated their achievement and researchers at Bell Labs were concerned that the Mataré-Welker research would hurt their chances of obtaining a patent.

Mataré continued to develop applications for the technology at Westinghouse, demonstrating its use for making calls across the Mediterranean in 1950. By 1952, however, the company closed the lab, as the French government shifted its infrastructure budget from telephones to nuclear power. Mataré then returned to Germany to work for a transistor firm, Intermetall, creating a prototype for a small transistor radio that preceded the first American transistor radio by more than a year.

When Intermetall’s funding dried up, Mataré moved to the United States, where he worked at the Army Signal Corps and the Sylvania research laboratories in Queens, New York. He moved on to the Bendix physics department in Michigan and Rockwell International in California. Finally, he began his own semiconductor consulting business in the 1970s. In 2003, he was consulting for a solar power manufacturer, helping it use exotic semiconducting materials to improve efficiency.

Although he earned many honors in his career, including designation as an IEEE Life Fellow, Mataré's contributions to the history of the transistor remain largely forgotten. According to a 2003 interview with the New York Times, he tried to publish his perspective on the birth of the transistor in 1998, when the IEEE was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the technology, but his article, “The Lesser Known History of the Crystal Amplifier,” was turned down. His story has since been described by a Belgian historian, Armand Van Dormael, in a self-published book, “The Silicon Revolution.”

References

John Markoff, A Parallel Inventor of the Transistor Has His Moment, 24 Feb 2003.

Michael Riordan,How Europe Missed the Transistor, IEEE Spectrum, 1 Nov 2005.