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Donald L. Klein

  • Born: December 19, 1930, Brooklyn, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0332
Interview Dates: March 2, 2006 and March 9, 2006
Location: By Phone,
Interviewer: David C. Brock
No. of pages: 105
Minutes: 234

  Abstract of Interview

Donald L. Klein is the son of a Hungarian father and a Hungarian-American mother, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York.  With his childhood friend, Neil Wotherspoon, Klein developed an early passion for chemistry, electronics, and amateur radio, interests that would follow him throughout his life and career.  At Brooklyn Technical High School, he discovered an additional passion for metallurgy.  He completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now Polytechnic Institute of New York University), then found a job in the semiconductor industry to support his new wife (who also received a degree in chemistry).  After working for a couple of years, he pursued a graduate degree at the University of Connecticut to study photochemistry under Dr. Roland Ward.

Klein was recruited to work for Bell Laboratories, and began working on the production of semiconductors.  His group was involved in involved in developing etching techniques for semiconductors and methods to prevent different types of contamination in semiconductor production.  In February 1966, Klein was in charge of a brainstorming session with several other Bell scientists to design a better process for building FET devices.  They first identified the problems with current models and processes; out of that meeting came the idea of using a heavily doped polycrystalline silicon layer as the gate of an FET.  The gate was to be supported on dual layers of a silicon nitride and silicon dioxide serving as the gate insulator.  Using the FET as a model for integrated circuits, they fabricated and characterized hundreds of FET devices at high yield that exhibited close electrical tolerances.  Klein and his colleagues published several papers on their new technology, and applied for patents on their process, though Bell’s management was slow to appreciate the breakthrough its scientists had made.  After a restructuring, Klein left Bell to work for IBM. 

The rest of the industry, however, was quick to adopt and improve the silicon gate technology.  There were legal disputes throughout the 1970s, but by that time Klein was at IBM developing photoresist technologies and more efficient processes for manufacturing electronic packaging. 



1952 B.S., Chemistry, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
1956 M.S., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Connecticut
1959 Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Connecticut

  Professional Experience

Sylvania Electric Products, Inc., Woburn, Massachusetts

1952 - 1954

Chemist, Chemistry and Physics Department

University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

1954 - 1958

Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, and Assistant Instructor, Chemistry Department

Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey

1958 - 1967

Member of Technical Staff and Supervisor

IBM Corporation, East Fishkill, New York

1968 - 1987

Senior Engineer, Manager, and Technical Staff

IBM Corporation, East Fishkill, New York

1987 - present


Dutchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, New York

1987 - 1988

Member of Faculty, Department of Physical Sciences; Lecturer in Chemistry



IBM Invention Award


Inducted into New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame


Jack A. Morton Award of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers


Brooklyn Technical High School Alumni Hall of Fame

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family History, Childhood, and Schooling 1

Father’s immigration experience.  Born in Brooklyn.  Early interest in
chemistry.  Interest in amateur radio and electronics.  Brooklyn Technical High School.  Interest in chemistry and metallurgy.      

Undergraduate Education, Early Career, and Graduate School 9

Undergraduate at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.  Solid-state and radio frequency titrimetry.  Scholarship work on polarography.  Marriage.  Sylvania Electric Products, Inc.  Semiconductors and diffused transistors.  Graduate studies at the University of Connecticut.  Photochemistry.    

Bell Laboratories 28

Recruitment.  Early projects on semiconductors.  Moisture contamination.  Etching.  Bell management.  Plating.  Aluminum oxide contamination.  Gallium arsenide doping.      

Silcon Gate 43

Interdepartmental meeting.  Goal to develop a process like a chemist.  Problems with field effect transistors.  Idea of sandwich structure with silicon.  Trial and error construction of silicon gate device.  Personal, company, and industry response.  Restructuring at Bell.  Patents.  

Later Career 71

Move to International Business Machines.  Spread of silicon gate
technology.  Silicon gate legal disputes.  Lithography.  Research in
electronic packaging technologies.  

Index 97

  About the Interviewers

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

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