In 1916, chemist Jan Czochralski mistakenly dipped his fountain pen into molten tin, which resulted in a thread of metal on the end. Using the same force that moves soda up a straw, called capillary forces, Czochralski found an inexpensive way to make solid crystals starting from a liquid. He did not know this then, but his lab accident later created a cheap way to make silicon semiconductors, a method that was perfected by chemist Gordon Teal in the 1950s at Bell Labs. And this process would enabled the integrated circuit, which is the heart of your computer. The start of the Electronic Age and Silicon Valley all came together because of a lab accident.
Most of the silicon chips that we use today are created by this method but very little is written about this scientist. In laboratories across the world, the method he created is called the CZ Method (after Czochralski), but most people don’t know his story. Yet, it was his work that changed the world.
Want to know more?
A technical description of his work can be found in this Materials Research Society Bulletin article (which is downloadable.) More information about how the computer chip came to be can be found in The Alchemy of Us.