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Frank J. Biondi

  • Born: September 22, 1914, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • Died: October 5, 2003

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0147
Interview Date: March 19, 1996
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 63
Minutes: 153
Sponsor: Electrochemical Society
Electrochemical Society

  Abstract of Interview

This interview discusses Frank J. Biondi's education, career, and involvement in The Electrochemical Society, beginning with college experiences as a chemical engineering major at Lehigh University and initial work at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL). Biondi describes his position within the structure of BTL in the 1930s and reasons for his pursuit of graduate education at Columbia University. After completing his master's degree in chemical engineering, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program and became involved in the Manhattan Project. Biondi worked on a gaseous diffusion program to separate uranium 235 from uranium ore, designing the diffusion barrier used for the atom bomb. Biondi describes the reasons for Union Carbide's appropriation of his barrier's design and related patent applications and process details, and the subsequent manufacture of large amounts of barrier. After making his contribution to the Manhattan Project, Biondi returned to BTL work and focused on electronics, initially developing long-life cathodes used by the British during the war. He continued cathode work, becoming involved with the ASTM to standardize three nickel alloys for electronics industry electron tube cathodes. Biondi describes his rise through various BTL departments, his entry into transistor work, and associations with The ECS, which began in an effort to assure BTL metallurgists designing semiconductor devices an outlet for publishing and presenting their work. After touching on solid-state activity and descriptions of new electrochemical processes in ECS publications, the interview returns to Biondi's BTL career progress, particularly his work on transistors. As Biondi reviews his later career, he discusses fuel cell work, relationships with N. Bruce Hannay and R. M. Burns, the electronics industry's first dust-free white room, semiconductor work for satellites, and improvements in battery manufacture and design. The interview closes with comments on the effects of changes related to AT&T and Lucent Technologies, the future of The ECS, and consulting work since retirement from BTL.


1936 B.S. with honors, Chemical Engineering, Lehigh University
1940 M.S., Chemical Engineering, Columbia University
1942 Chemical Engineering (from 1940–1942), Polytechnic Institute of New York University

  Professional Experience

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1936 - 1948 Member of Technical Staff, Chemical Research and Development

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1948 - 1958 Member of Technical Staff, Supervisor, Electronic Material and Processing

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1958 - 1962 Department Head, Electronic Material and Processing

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1962 - 1979 Laboratory Director, Electron Device Materials and Processes Laboratory

Manhattan Project

1940 - 1943 Scientist

Bond Engineering, Inc.

1979 - 1989 President


1945 Certificate, U.S. War Department, Army Service Forces/Corps of Engineers, Manhattan District, in appreciation for work essential to the production of the Atom Bomb
1946 Award for Chemical Engineering Achievement, Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

College Education 1

B.S. in chemical engineering from Lehigh University. Summer job and subsequent full time position at Bell Telephone Laboratories. M.S. in chemical engineering from Columbia University.

The Manhattan Project 3

Recruitment for the Manhattan Project at Columbia while working towards a Ph.D. Development of the gaseous diffusion barrier. Appropriation of Biondi's gaseous diffusion barrier by Foster Nix, then Union Carbide. Medal for work on the atomic bomb presented by U.S. Secretary of War.

Early Career at Bell Telephone Laboratories 11

Improvement of magnetrons for wartime defense of England. Industry-wide specifications for materials used in the production of electron tubes written with the American Society for Testing and Materials. Family and community life. Promotion to supervisor. Development of transistors. Papers on semiconductor processes published through The Electrochemical Society (ECS). Creation of solid state activity in ECS. Installation of electronics industry's first white room.

Later Career at Bell Telephone Laboratories 21

Promotion to department head and laboratory director. Introduction of gold-plating of telephone connector wires. Development of hepafilters used in the production of transistors. Use of hepafilter room in hospitals. Institution of environmental protection policies. Consulting work with fuel cells for NASA's Gemini and Apollo space programs. Discovery of penicillin while creosoting wood.

The Future of Electrochemistry 32

Prediction of increased use of ionized gases and clean rooms. Discussion of Telstar I satellite and atomic bomb. Effect of changes with AT&ammp;T on Bell Labs. The future role of The ECS in the electronics business. Discussion of other scientific societies. Design and production of batteries for Bell Labs. Post Bell Labs consulting work.

Notes 49

Index 50

  About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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