|After helping to develop the electronic transistor at Bell Labs, Morgan Sparks led Sandia Labs in New Mexico. (sandia national laboratories via ap/file)|
Morgan Sparks, 91; his work was key to usage of transistor
ALBUQUERQUE - Morgan Sparks, who led Sandia National Laboratories for nearly a decade and invented an electronic device that has revolutionized almost every aspect of modern life, has died.
Dr. Sparks died Saturday at his daughter's home in Fullerton, Calif., Sandia said in a news release. He was 91.
Dr. Sparks worked for 30 years at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey before taking over as director of Sandia in 1972. He served in the post until his retirement in 1981.
Sandia and Bell labs officials said Dr. Sparks invented the first practical transistor, a semiconductor device that led to devices such as personal computers, cellphones, and DVD players.
Dr. Sparks joined the Semiconductor Research Group at the New Jersey lab in 1948 just as three of the group's physicists - John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley - were developing the first transistor, for which they received the Nobel Prize, said Peter Benedict, a spokesman for Bell.
Dr. Sparks conducted materials science research with the group and worked with fellow team members Shockley and Gordon Teal to help develop the microwatt junction transistor in 1951.
Junction transistors began replacing vacuum tubes in electronic devices such as portable radios. Soon, transistors became essential in electronic computers, and their production grew monumentally after the emergence of the microchip in the 1960s.
Benedict said Bell lab scientists who worked on early transistor technology created something fundamental to everyday life.
"They created a new field of science and new manifestations of matter. They were scientists who brought fundamental science to real-world needs," Benedict said.
Dr. Sparks rose through the management ranks during the 1960s and '70s at Bell Labs and Western Electric Co., the manufacturing arm of American Telephone & Telegraph - before taking his position as director of Sandia.
Tom Hunter, the current Sandia director, was a young staff member when Dr. Sparks was director. He said Dr. Sparks made a big impact "on all of us."
"He set the framework for Sandia to become a multiprogram lab. He was widely recognized for his ability to engage the labs in many new areas that proved to be important for our future," Hunter said in a statement.
A native of Pagosa Springs, Colo., Dr. Sparks grew up in Texas and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry at Rice University before receiving his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Illinois.
Dr. Sparks was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth MacEvoy Sparks. The couple had four children: Margaret Potter and Gordon, both of Waitsfield, Vt.; Patricia Fusting of Fullerton; and Morgan of Burlington, Vt.