Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987

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Major affiliations include: Bell Laboratories, NJ, USA, 1929-1967; Columbia University, New York, NY USA, 1942-1943; and Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, USA, 1967-

From the description of Personal Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84185841

Physicist. Major affiliations include: Bell Laboratories, NJ, USA (1929-1967); Columbia University, New York, NY, USA (1942-1943); and Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, USA, (1967-1987?).

From the description of Thesis, 1926. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78354803

Walter Houser Brattain was born on Feb. 10th, 1902 in Amoy, China. He was the son of Ross R. Brattain and Ottilie Houser, the oldest of their five children. Two of his sisters died very young; he spent his childhood in Washington State with his third sister, Mari Brattain, and his brother, R. Robert Brattain. The Brattain family had many Whitman College connections: Ross and Ottilie met at Whitman and Ross graduated from the college in 1901. Walter graduated from Whitman in 1924 with majors in Physics and Math under Professors Benjamin H. Brown (Physics) and Walter A. Bratton (Math).

There were three other physicists of note who graduated in Walter Brattain’s class: Walker Bleakney, E.J. Workman, and Vladimir B. Rojansky, with whom he collaborated over the years. The four of them were known as Whitman’s “Four Horsemen of Physics.” While a Whitman student, Brattain was passionate about math, an excellent tennis player and member of the Kirkman Club, a fraternal group.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from Whitman, Brattain was awarded a Masters of Arts by the University of Oregon in 1926 and a Doctorate of Philosophy by the University of Minnesota in 1929. After completing his graduate studies, Brattain worked for the radio section of the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., from 1927 to 1928. In 1929 he joined the technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories and worked as a research physicist until his retirement in 1976. During World War II, he was associated for 22 months with the National Defense Research Committee at Columbia University, working on magnetic detection of submarines. Brattain was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University during the fall of 1952 and a visiting lecturer at Whitman College between 1962 and 1963, becoming a visiting professor between 1963 and 1972 and an adjunct professor from 1972 until 1976. He remained afterwards as a consultant at Whitman.

Brattain was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956, with Dr. John Bardeen and Dr. William B. Shockley, “for research on semiconductors and the discovery of the transistor effect.” These three American physicists invented the transistor on December 23, 1947, at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company at Bell Laboratories. The transistor’s name derives from the descriptive phrase “transfer of signal through varsitor.” The transistor is a solid state device involved in connecting battery power to signal power. As a key element in amplifying small electrical signals and in processing of digital information, it is today an active component in all electronic systems. Brattain received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Portland University in 1952, from Whitman College and Union College in 1955, and from the University of Minnesota in 1957. In 1952 he was awarded the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute, and in 1954 the John Scott Medal. The degree at Union College and the two medals were received jointly with Dr. John Bardeen, in recognition of their work on the transistor. In 1974, he was named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Brattain was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Franklin Institute, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a member of the commission on semiconductors of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and of the Naval Research Advisory Committee. At Whitman, he was nominated to membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. He also served as an Overseer for the college.

The chief field of Brattain’s research was the surface properties of solids, as well as research directed at (1) thermionic emission and absorbed layers on tungsten, phospholipids bylayers or membranes rectification and (2) photo effects at semiconductor surfaces (ergo, cuprous oxide, silicon and germanium). Among his contributions are the discoveries of photo effect at the free surface of a semiconductor, the invention of the point-contact transistor jointly with Dr. John Bardeen, and shared research on piezoelectric frequency standards, magnetometers, blood clotting, and infrared detectors.

Walter Brattain married Dr. Keren Gilmore (chemist) in 1935 and had a son, William G. Brattain, in April, 1943. Keren died in April 1957. In May, 1958, he married Mrs. Emma Jane (Kirsch) Miller, a Whitman College alumna. He had three stepchildren and 10 grandchildren. Walter Brattain died on October 13, 1987, in Seattle, Washington, of Alzheimer’s disease.

From the guide to the Walter Brattain Family Papers, 1860-1990, 1901-1990, (Whitman College and Northwest Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Margenau, Henry, 1901-. Henry Margenau papers, 1927-1990 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Holden, Alan. Oral history interview with Alan Holden, 1974 July 30 and 21 June 1976. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. How the transistor was named [sound recording] American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. The saga of an expedition to Stockholm, Sweden, December 1956, 1956. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter Houser, 1902-. [Envelope] 1973 July 10, New York, N.Y., First Day of Issue / Walter Brattain, Wm. Shockley, John Bardeen. Texas Tech University Libraries, Academic Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Personal Papers. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Walker Bleakney Retirement Symposium [sound recording] / 1969 May 2. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Autobiography, 1959. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Reminiscences of Professor Benjamin Harrison Brown, plus impromptu speeches given shortly after the announcement of the Nobel Prize to Walter Brattain and others [sound recording] / 1965 and 1956. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Walter Brattain Family Papers, 1860-1990, 1901-1990 Whitman College and Northwest Archives
referencedIn Murphy, Edward Joseph, 1898-. Recollections and anecdotes, 1983. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Flatow, Ira, Executive producer and narrator. Transistorized! [videorecording] / co-production of ScienCentral and Twin Cities Public Television; producer, Gino Del Guercio; executive producer and narrator, Ira Flatow, 1998. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Anderson, P. W. (Philip W.), 1923-. Oral history interview with Philip Anderson, 1999. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn White, Addison Hughson, 1909-. Oral history interview Addison Hughson White, 1976 September 30. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Niels Bohr Library. History of physics audio-visual collection, circa 1918-1996, 1960-1988 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Niels Bohr Library. The Emilio Segrè visual archives, A-D, [ca. 1870]-9999. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H., 1902-. Papers. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Seitz, Frederick, 1911-2008. Oral history interview with Frederick Seitz, 1981 January 26 to 1982 March 16. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Niels Bohr Library. History of physics manuscript biography collection A-C, 1901-1989, [ca. 1960]-1989 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Shockley, William, 1910-1989. Oral history interview with William Shockley, 1974 September 10. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Millman, Sidney, 1908-. Oral history interview with Sidney Millman, 1974 August 2 to 21 August 1975. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Morgan, Stanley Owen, 1900-. Oral history interview with Stanley Owen Morgan, 1975 July 3. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Henry Margenau papers, 1927-1990 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Pearson, Gerald Leondus, 1905-. Oral history interview with Gerald Leondus Pearson, 1976 August 23 and 8 April 1980. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Bardeen, John. Oral history interview with John Bardeen, 1980 February 13. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Nix, Foster Cary, 1905-. Oral history interview with Foster Cary Nix, 1975 June 27. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn AT & T Archives. Archives. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Thesis, 1926. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Bray, Ralph, 1921-. Oral history interview with Ralph Bray, 1982 May 14. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Kelly, Katharine Milsted. Oral history interview with Katharine Milsted Kelly, 1976 July 2. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Brattain, Walter H. (Walter Houser), 1902-1987. Oral history interview with Walter H. Brattain, 1964 January and 28 May 1974. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Wooldridge, Dean E. Oral history interview with Dean E. Wooldridge, 1976 August 21. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Institute of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, P. W. (Philip W.), 1923- person
associatedWith AT & T Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Bardeen, John, 1908- person
associatedWith Bell Telephone Laboratories, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Bray, Ralph, 1921- person
associatedWith Dibner, Bern, person
associatedWith Harvard University. corporateBody
associatedWith Holden, Alan. person
associatedWith Kelly, Katharine Milsted. person
associatedWith King, W. James. person
associatedWith Margenau, Henry, 1901- person
associatedWith Millman, Sidney, 1908- person
associatedWith Milne, Edward Arthur, 1896-1950. person
associatedWith Morgan, Stanley Owen. person
associatedWith Murphy, Edward Joseph, 1898- person
associatedWith Niels Bohr Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Nix, Foster Cary, 1905- person
associatedWith Pearson, Gerald Leondus, 1905- person
associatedWith Seitz, Frederick, 1911-2008. person
associatedWith Shockley, William, 1910-1989. person
associatedWith Sommerfeld, Arnold, 1868-1951. person
associatedWith United States. National Bureau of Standards. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Scientific Research. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Oregon. corporateBody
associatedWith Van Vleck, J. H. (John Hasbrouck), 1899- person
associatedWith Weiner, Charles. person
associatedWith White, Addison Hughson, 1909- person
associatedWith Whitman College corporateBody
associatedWith Wooldridge, Dean E. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Sweden
Subject
Physicists--Travel
Piezoelectricity
Germanium--Surfaces--Research
Transistors
Solids--Surfaces
Science
Physics
Capacitors
Inventions--20th century
Solid state physics
Voyages and travels
Thermionic emission
Semiconductors
Anti-submarine warfare
World War, 1939-1945--Science
Electric spark gaps
Transistors--History
Oscillators, Electric
Copper oxide rectifiers
Electric resistance
Colleges and Universities
Nobel prizes
Physicists--Biography
Awards
Inductance
Technology
Oscillographs
Statistical mechanics
Occupation
Physicists
Function

Person

Birth 1902-02-10

Death 1987-10-13

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