Gordon E. Moore

April 19, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of Gordon E. Moore’s first publication about this fundamental dynamic and his numerical predictions about the future of silicon electronics. This short film is based on an exclusive interview with Moore.

It is hard to imagine life today without computers. In familiar and in often unrecognized ways, computing permeates our experiences and environments.

The computational hearts of these machines—silicon microchips like microprocessors and memories—are also found in an astonishing array of other devices and systems. They are in the mobile telephones and smartphones that billions of people use around the world. They animate the servers and routers that provide the World Wide Web and telecommunications networks for voice calls and text messages. They provide the controls for everything from pacemakers to satellites, wristwatches to automobile engines, dishwashers to petroleum refineries, glucose meters to drones.

This profusion of silicon microchips, and with them computing, has gathered steam as microchips have offered electronics that have at once become better— more reliable, less power hungry—and cheaper. A given helping of electronics has become better and steadily cheaper. More computing power can be obtained for the same price year after year.

This phenomenon is known as Moore’s law, named for the chemist—Gordon E. Moore—who first identified this fundamental dynamic in the development of microchips and its implications.

Moore was born in 1929 near San Francisco. Inspired by his early love for chemistry sets, Moore eventually earned a PhD in physical chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. In 1956 he joined the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory of Beckman Instruments, where he worked for a year until his career took off in an interesting way. 

In a bold move Moore left Beckman Instruments with the so-called traitorous eight and helped found Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation. Here Moore began his life-changing work on what would eventually become silicon microchips.

Moore realized that in order to produce cost-effective microchips the chemical technology behind them had to be improved and that this technology would develop rapidly. He hypothesized that microchips would double in complexity every year (later revised to every two years), and this realization is now referred to as Moore’s law. In 1968 Moore left Fairchild and with Robert Noyce cofounded Intel, which is now the world’s largest microchip maker, with Moore as its longest-serving CEO.

Moore has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the National Medal of Technology, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Othmer Gold Medal, and the Perkin Medal.

With his wife, Moore has endowed the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which works to develop outcome-based projects under the categories of environmental conservation, patient care, science, and conservation and museum support in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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