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The Spirit Of Invention Continues At Bell Labs

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William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain invented the transistor at Bell Labs in 1947. (credit: Alcatel Lucent/Bell Labs)

NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) - It looks like some tiny, weird work of art. But it won three physicists from Bell Labs a Nobel Prize. It’s the first transistor. “This was an invention from 1947,” said Edward Eckert, the archivist for Alcatel Lucent — the AT&T spinoff that operates the labs today. “Without this, a cell phone would be the size of a building. This is the beginning of the microelectronics revolution, everything getting smaller.”

Eckert also showed off a 1960s helium neon laser — the first one that would emit a continuous beam of laser light. The laser was invented at Bell Labs, when it was the research arm for AT&T — “Ma Bell,” everybody’s telephone company. “In about ten years, we were able to shrink these types of lasers to something the size of a grain of salt,” said Eckert. “We knew at Bell Labs that this was going to be the next game changer in the telecommunications network.”

Suddenly data could travel at the speed of light over telephone lines. And that was just the beginning.

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