The germanium wafer is a critical component of microchips that make computers, mobile phones, digital cameras, projectors, fiber optic cables, infrared technology, and solar cells work. It is made from a rare, silvery-white semiconductor metal that shares silicon's similar physical and chemical properties. The history of this chemical element marks the birth of modern semiconductor physics and the beginning of solid-state electronics.
Dmitri Mendeleev was a Russian chemist and inventor who is often referred to as the father of the periodic table. Mendeleev predicted germanium’s existence in 1869 when he named element number 32 Eka silicon. It wasn't until 17 years later that a German chemist named Clemens A. Winkler solidified Mendeleev's theory after discovering and isolating germanium from the argyrodite mineral.
Scientists did a lot of research on the electrical properties of germanium during the 1920s. Their findings paved the way for the development of high purity, single-crystal germanium that were eventually used as rectifying diodes in microwave radar receivers.
During World War II, the need to achieve high resolution from radar receivers became evident. An American physicist named Karl Lark-Horovitz tabulated the properties of germanium and highlighted the element’s relatively high stability and low melting point.
His findings led to the development of germanium point contact rectifiers used for radar receivers during World War II. Lark-Horovitz’s work in solid-state physics played a crucial role in the invention of the first transistor.
Germanium’s first commercial application came immediately after the war when John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invented the first transistor at Bell Labs in 1947. Using germanium for transistor production became the standard in the following years. Germanium-containing transistors were used in military computers, telephone switching equipment, portable radios, and hearing aids.
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