Inventing the future – Jan Czochralski
The history of science is full of examples of inventions discovered by accident that actually acted as turning points. In 1916, Jan Czochralski, an outstanding Polish scientist, discovered something that changed the word: while he was working on a different finding, he invented a method for measuring the crystallization velocity of metals.
One evening, as he was taking notes on a previous experiment, he dipped his pen into the crucible instead of the inkwell nearby. When he removed it, he noticed a thin thread of solidified metal hanging at the tip of the nib. This observation turned out to be not only a breakthrough in the scientist’s career, but also a milestone in science.
Thanks to his method, scientists were able to grow pure single crystals of silicon – the base of silicon transistors that started the twentieth century revolution in electronics.
Finding a way to create single crystals was the first step to building microprocessors with integrated circuits that are the heart of all electronic equipment, such as computers, telephones, cars, robots, sophisticated microwave ovens and ordinary watches. This is another great example of a small scientific accident that can change our life entirely.
GE was working on Czochralski’s method in co-operation with Bell Telephone Laboratories. In the 1950s, they took part in the process of transforming germanium into silicon and finalized the research focused on crystal growth methods (Czochralski’s, among others), segregation and diffusion of all important impurities and finally, a variety of evaluation methods. It’s worth mentioning that their data can still be used as such, without any correction. The rectifiers, diodes, transistors and thyristors produced by single crystals were used for color TV, controllers of high-speed railway lines networks in Japan (more on this topic in the book: Semiconductor silicon 1998; vol. 1 – ed. H.R. Huff, U.Goesele i H.Tsuya; Electrochemical Society, Inc., Pennington, New Jersey, 1998).
Czochralski’s method was presented in a short video available below.
Jan Czochralski was born in 1885 in Poland, in a little village Kcynia, near Poznan. He was interested in chemistry and he started working in a pharmacy where he conducted scientific chemistry experiments. In 1904, when he moved to Berlin where he worked in a pharmacy analyzing ores, oils, greases and metals, he improved his skills as a chemist and materials scientist. He spent the next two years in AEG’s laboratory based in Kabelwerk Oberspree where he unexpectedly discovered a method for measuring the crystallization rate of metals. In 1917 he moved to Frankfurt on Main to run Metallgesellschaft A.G.’s Laboratory of Metal Science. This stage of his career resulted in another discovery that brought him money and fame. He patented the so-called “B metal” – tin-free bearing alloy for railways. He returned to Poland at the personal invitation of President Ignacy Mościcki, resigning from all his positions in Germany, leaving the director job at Ford’s U.S. factory. In 1929 he received an honorary doctorate and took a job as professor at the Department of Chemistry from Warsaw University of Technology. Czochralski died in 1953, leaving behind many discoveries. He gained more fame mainly after his death.
Czochralski’s contribution to the development of materials science has been recognized by the European Materials Research Society which established an award in the name of the great scientist. The Foundation for Development of Materials Science honors outstanding scientists for their contribution in material engineering with a Gold Medal. Jan Czochralski’s name is forever associated with the method for measuring the crystallization velocity of metals, which remains the main way to produce single crystals. Nowadays, professionals consider Czochralski to be “The Father of semiconductor electronics”. His life and achievements have been a matter of discussion in the scientific environment and a subject in several publications. An extended biography of Jan Czochralski will be published in Poland in April 2012, on the 59th commemoration of his death.