Materials Science

By The Editors / November / December 2000
October 24th, 2007

Baltasar Mena ’73 Ph.D.

Sometimes in science pure research and practical need come together to create a much-needed breakthrough. Such is the work of Baltasar Mena, a professor at the National University of Mexico whose work in fluid and granular physics has already had a profound effect on feeding the Third World.

Mena is the inventor of the solar hexagonal silo, an unusually efficient type of storage facility that radically reduces spoilage of food grains. Experts say Mena’s silo, which is used extensively in several countries, saves billions of dollars a year in post-harvest losses. Mena has also designed a low-cost, smaller-capacity version. For his work he has won Mexico’s highest award, the National Prize of Arts and Sciences.

Gordon Kidd Teal ’31 Ph.D.

The modern electronics era began in the late 1940s with William Shockley’s invention of the transistor. But it wasn’t truly launched until Gordon Teal developed the materials to make transistors cheap, efficient, and easy to manufacture. His contribution, he once said, “was as important to the transistor as removing the last traces of gases from the vacuum tube.”

At Brown, Teal studied under chemistry professor Charles Kraus, who introduced him to the semimetallic element germanium, which at the time was chemically interesting but without practical value. Nevertheless, when Teal went to work at Bell Laboratories—where Shockley and his team were doing their historic research—Teal took what he described as “a continuing personal sentimental attachment for germanium” and successfully set about applying Shockley’s findings. In 1950 he figured out how to produce an ingot of germanium in such a way that it in effect miniaturized transistors and made their manufacture practicable.

But Teal’s most important breakthrough came after he moved to a new company called Texas Instruments in 1953, where he successfully led an effort to make transistors out of pure silicon, a material that was much cheaper than germanium to produce. Thanks to Teal’s work, the name Texas Instruments became synonymous with transistors, making the company one of the early giants of the high-tech industry.

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November / December 2000