Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches
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WILLIS ALFRED ADCOCK
Willis Alfred Adcock was born in St. John’s, Quebec, Canada on November 25, 1922, and died in Austin, Texas, on December 16, 2003. He immigrated to the United States in 1936 and became an American citizen in 1944. Dr. Adcock was an inventor, physicist, electrical engineer, and educator. After a distinguished career with Texas Instruments, he became a professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas in 1986. In the same year, he was appointed to the Cockrell Family Regents Chair, a position he held until becoming chair professor emeritus in 1993.
After attending high school in upper New York, Dr. Adcock attended Hobart College, where he earned a B.S. cum laude in 1943. He joined the United States Army in 1944 and became a technical staff member in the Clinton Laboratories at Oak Ridge, Tennessee where he was a very junior member of the team that worked on the development of the atomic bomb. He loved to tell the story of how one day an army officer took him into Knoxville, found a federal judge, and ordered that G.I. Adcock be naturalized so he could get a security clearance. No questions could be asked of him other than his name, rank, and serial number!
After the war, Dr. Adcock pursued graduate studies at Brown University, receiving his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1948. From then until 1953, he was a technical staff member for Stanolind Oil and Gas Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1953, he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas, where he was to make tremendous contributions to his field as manager of the development department and manager of the integrated circuits department. He recruited Jack Kilby to Texas Instruments and supported the research that led to the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958.
Part of Dr. Adcock’s work at Texas Instruments involved growing the first silicon boule that permitted construction of the silicon transistor which made the company a world leader in semiconductors. The technological impact of these silicon transistors in the field of microelectronics cannot be overemphasized. In a seminal paper by Drs. Adcock and Gordon Teal presented in May 1954 to the National Conference on Airborne Electronics in Dayton, Ohio, entitled, "Some recent developments in silicon and germanium materials and devices," the two researchers described the first working silicon transistors. Their achievement was a technological tour-de-force because silicon was a much harder material than germanium to purify and crystallize. However, the inherent electronic properties of silicon were superior to those of germanium, leading to much lower electrical leakage in transistors at high operating temperatures.
In Crystal Fire, a book by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson (W.W. Norton and Co., 1997), the authors describe how, at the 1954 Ohio conference, Drs. Adcock and Teal dunked a record player amplifier made of germanium transistors into hot oil, causing the player to instantly quit. However, a similar amplifier made of the brand new silicon transistors kept the record player working, and the dulcet notes from Artie Shaw's "Summit Ridge Drive" kept pouring out. These silicon transistors were to rapidly supplant the then-prevailing germanium devices. For example, the military, which needed their electronic hardware to function at environmental extremes, found a godsend in these new devices.
Dr. Adcock left Texas Instruments briefly in 1964 to work as technical director for Sperry Semiconductor in Norwalk, Connecticut, but he returned in 1965 as manager of advanced planning and technical development. He was later made assistant vice president and finally vice president of corporate staff from 1982-86. He retired from Texas Instruments in 1986 as vice president and principal fellow.
After retiring from Texas Instruments, Dr. Adcock moved to Austin, Texas, where he became a professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas and held the Cockrell Family Regents Chair. While at the University, Dr. Adcock established a vigorous research program on semiconductor manufacturing. As part of the program, he also developed a very well-received graduate course on Statistical Process Control and Design of Experiments. When the research consortium SEMATECH was established in Austin to re-establish U.S. leadership in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of Japanese competition, Drs. Adcock and Al Tasch were instrumental in the 1988 establishment of the SEMATECH Research Center of Excellence at the University. Dr. Adcock was the founding director of this research center which led to very fruitful interaction between the University and SEMATECH.
In 1993, Dr. Adcock became chair professor emeritus of the electrical and computer engineering department. He was a Fellow of the I.E.E.E. and the A.A.A.S., and he was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Chemical Society. He was also a member of Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa as well as a Principal Fellow of the Texas Institute. In 1989, he was awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, Hobart College. Among his many other accomplishments, Dr. Adcock held a number of basic patents for digital photography, and at the time of his death he was working on his unique torque converter. His first patent in this area was issued on June 3, 2003, just seven months before his passing.
As indicated by his work on the torque converter, in retirement Dr. Adcock was as active as ever. He served for a time as president of both the Texas Instruments Austin Retirees Club and of the Austin English Speaking Union. He was a member of the McDonald Observatory’s Visitors Council, and he and his wife, Sara, enjoyed the Austin Symphony and the Austin Lyric Opera. The couple loved to travel and made numerous trips, including tours of the British Isles and Ireland with groups from their church, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin.
Dr. Adcock married Eleanor Goller in 1943. They had four children before Eleanor passed away. In December 1970, he married Sara McCoy Adcock, and they were living in Austin at the time of his death in 2003. Anyone who knew Willis would happily concur with the words of T.R. Reid, who in his classic book, The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution, (Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 11) described Willis Adcock as “a zesty sprite who talks a mile a minute and still can’t keep up with his racing train of thought.” Those of us who knew him best would agree: these were the marks of a brilliant mind within a very warm and lovable human being.
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Sanjay Banerjee (chair), Earl Swartzlander, and David Beer.