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Jay Last, one of the rebels who founded Silicon Valley, dies at 92

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Jay Last, one of the rebels who founded Silicon Valley, dies at 92

Jay Last, a physicist who helped create the silicon chips that power the world’s computers, and who was among eight entrepreneurs whose company laid the technological, financial and cultural foundations for Silicon Valley, died on November 11 in Los Angeles. died in He was 92 years old.

His death in a hospital was confirmed by his wife and only immediate survivor, Debbie.

Dr. was doing last Ph.D. in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956, when he was approached by William Shockley, who would share the Nobel Prize that same year for the invention of the transistor, the tiny electrical device that became the essential building block for the world’s computer chips. Dr. Shockley invited him to join a new effort to commercialize a silicon transistor in a laboratory near Palo Alto, California, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Dr. Last was amazed by Dr. Shockley’s intelligence and reputation, but was unsure of the job offer. Ultimately, he agreed to join the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory as it sat in the northern California valley where he spent the summer harvesting fruit after a hitchhiker from his home in Pennsylvania steel country.

But he and seven of his colleagues in the lab clashed with Dr. Shockley, who would later become infamous for his theory that black people were genetically inferior in intelligence to white people. He quickly left the lab to form his own transistor company. They later came to be called the “Traitor Eight” and their company, Fairchild Semiconductor, is seen as ground zero for what is now known as Silicon Valley.

At Fairchild, Dr. Last led a team of scientists who developed a fundamental technology that is still used to make computer chips, which are digital for billions of people on billions of computers, tablets, smartphones and smartwatches. the mind provides.

“Nothing was more important to the experience of Silicon Valley than Fairchild Semiconductor as we know it today,” said David C. Brock, curator and director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. The dynamism that still persists was crystallized by the founders of Fairchild, and Jay was right in the middle of it.”

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Jay Taylor Last was born on October 18, 1929, in Butler, Pa. His father, Frank, a German immigrant, and his Scotch-Irish mother, Sarah, met when they were two of three teachers in a high school. Ohio. After marriage, Frank Last realized he could not support a family on a teacher’s salary, so he moved to Pennsylvania, where he went to work at the new Butler Steel Mill, not far from Pittsburgh.

Jay Last grew up in Butler before making his first pilgrimage to the West Coast at the age of 16. With the blessing of his parents—and a letter from the local police chief saying he was not running away from home—he hitchhiked to San Jose, Calif., a small agricultural town at the time. He had planned to earn some money to harvest the fruit, but he came before the harvest began.

Until that happened, he lived, as he often remembered in later years, on a nickel’s worth of carrots a day. Whenever he faced a difficult situation, he said in an interview for the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2004, he told himself, “I got over it when I was 16, and it’s not such a bad problem. Is.”

At the suggestion of his father, he soon enrolled at the University of Rochester in New York State to study optics – the physics of light. During the summer in Pennsylvania, he worked in a research laboratory that served local plate-glass makers.

Fulfilling a promise he made to himself as a teenager, he earned his doctorate at MIT, before returning to Northern California and joining the Shockley Lab. But he followed Dr. Shockley’s highly observant and controlled style of management.

“I was a lab assistant, and that’s how he was working with everybody,” he recalled in 2004. “It wasn’t a case that everyone was getting together at a seminar and discussing what we were doing.” About a year later, he and his colleagues left to form Fairchild Semiconductor.

Using materials such as silicon and germanium, Dr. Shockley and two other scientists had shown how to build tiny transistors that would one day be used to store and transfer information in the form of electrical signals. The question was how to link them together to make one big machine.

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After using chemical compounds to etch the transistors into a sheet of silicon, Dr. Last and his colleagues could cut each one from the sheet and connect them to individual wires like any other electrical device. But it was very difficult, inefficient and costly.

One of the founders of Fairchild, Robert Noyce, suggested an alternative method, and it was realized by a team, Dr. Last Oversaw. He developed a way to make both the transistor and the wires into a single sheet of silicon.

This method is still used to make silicon chips, whose transistors are now increasingly smaller than those manufactured in the 1960s, according to Moore’s Law, the famous maxim set by another Fairchild founder, Gordon Moore.

With Dr. Last’s death, Dr. Moore is the last surviving member of the “Traitor Eight”.

The leaders of Fairchild Semiconductor would go on to form several other chip companies, including Intel, co-founded by Dr. Moore, and Amelco, co-founded by Dr. Last. The company’s founders and employees will also form and personally invest in some major Silicon Valley venture capital firms, as did Dr. Last did, among many companies that had grown in the field over the decades.

Dr. last retired from the chip business in 1974 and spent the rest of his life as an investor, an art collector, a writer, and an amateur climber. His collection of African art was donated to the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his ensemble of California citrus-box labels—an echo of his adolescence in Northern California—is now in the Huntington Library, Museum of Art. Botanical Garden in San Marino, Calif.

As Dr. Last completed his Ph.D. were ending. In 1956, he was asked to take over as head of the Glass Lab in Butler, Pa., where he worked during the summer. It looked like a promising opportunity.

“I went and told my parents,” she remembered. “My mom said, ‘Jay, you can do a lot better than this with your life.'”

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