Official Portrait of Dr. Gordon K. Teal
by Brenda Hash, PSA
A great deal of importance is placed on researching the subjects of my portraits. I want my portraits to say something genuine about the subject and to do that takes a good deal of research before the painting is started. On Dr. Teal’s portrait, a very poignant moment occurred one afternoon as I sat reading through the IEEE History Center’s online, oral-history interview of Dr. Teal. It’s a transcription of an interview I had skimmed several times for ideas for the portrait, and it gave me some insight into Dr. Teal’s personality. On this occasion, I noticed an MP3 audio file, so I clicked on it. Out came the voice of Gordon Teal. It was a gift and a sobering moment. I felt like I was finally getting to know this man.
His oral history is on this site because he was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor, and so I chose to depict that medal in my portrait as a large medallion in a wall mounted display case. The second medal you see in that case depicts his Inventors Hall of Fame Medal, and if you look closely at that medal you can see that Thomas Edison seems to be smiling at Dr. Teal, suggesting a bond between inventors.
A second article I found inspiring was one Dr. Teal had written in 1962. The article is titled, “The Role of Materials in the Electronics World of 2012 A.D.”. It was his 50-year look-ahead predicting what has become our past. Let’s see how close he was:
- In 1962 Dr. Teal predicted that “children would be educated by electronic teaching machines”. We still have flesh and blood teachers, but even elementary schools are now outfitted with PCs, laptops, and tablets, and how about those on-line degree programs.
- He said we would “work in automated industries and offices”. Many jobs have gone the way of the robot, you can walk into a room and the lights come on automatically or place your hands under a faucet and the water begins to run.
- Dr. Teal predicted we would “live in homes with walls that provide cooling, heating and lighting”. Today we can control cooling, heating and lighting remotely from our mobile phones and even lock the doors.
- He said we would “enjoy three-dimensional color stereophonic television and telephone”. Sounds like virtual reality, 3D television sets, and Skype.
- He said we would “conduct all financial transactions using coded identification cards”. How many credit and debit cards are in your wallet? How about that banking app on your tablet or mobile phone?
- He predicted we would be able to “voice our opinions on national and local government policies by voting electronically from our homes”. We might not be able to vote from home, but we can tweet our opinions to national news outlets and have those opinions shared across the world, on the air, live.
- Dr. Teal predicted we would have the “contents of even the rarest books available within minutes at the neighborhood information service”. We can access them immediately, right on our mobile devices. Google this… Library of Congress, Digital Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections and there they are at your fingertips.
- He predicted we would “enjoy a long and healthful life through computer use which would provide diagnoses with minimum probability of error and would prescribe with maximum probability of cure”. Take a look at IBM’s cognitive computing machine named Watson and see how this thinking machine is aiding doctor’s to more accurately diagnose and treat their patients.
Dr. Teal wrote these predictions and more in 1962. The accuracy of his predictions is astonishing, and it was this characteristic that kept showing up in my research; an imagination, a creativity, a vision that was unfettered by the notion that it can’t be done. My challenge was to find a way to portray this characteristic in his portrait.
At Bell Labs, Dr. Teal felt there were limitations to the poly-crystal transistor technology that could be resolved by creating a high-purity, high-perfection, single crystal of germanium. This idea was met with uncertainty from his boss and his peers. He had to pursue the idea on his own time, invent the machine that would pull the crystals, and then prove their worth. In the end, it was admitted that practically all advances at Bell Telephone Laboratories during those years in transistor electronics and transistor physics were based on the availability of single-crystal material.
When Dr. Teal moved to Dallas to become director of the first research department at Texas Instruments, he took this high-purity, single-crystal idea and applied it to silicon.
Since much of his notable work dealt with single-crystal germanium and silicon, I included the symbols for both chemical elements in the carving detail at the top corners of the display case. I also included carvings of bells in the wood work on the table in the painting to allude to Dr. Teal’s days at Bell Labs and a carving of the state of Texas at the base of the wall-mounted display case to point to his days at Texas Instruments.
These elements start tying together Dr. Teal’s accomplishments, but it was the story from Dr. Teal’s early years at Texas Instruments that became the final inspiration for my portrait. Dr. Teal attended the IRE National Conference on Airborne Electronics in Dayton, Ohio, on May 10, 1954 and was to be the last presenter in a long list of speakers addressing different research topics. The presenters going before him were questioned by the audience including folks from the electronics industry, the military and the press about the expected availability of the silicon transistor. The response was consistent. Silicon transistors were not ready. Be happy with the existing germanium transistors.
Dr. Teal's paper was about to reveal that TI was in production of three different silicon transistors. Realizing the increasing impact this news would have on the audience, he hand-edited his final paragraph. When he finally took the stage, he presented his 31-page paper with little hint at the shocking new ending. And then it came, TI has "successfully constructed n-p-n silicon grown-junction transistors and have developed the process to a point such that our company now has three types of silicon transistors in production. They forecast an exciting future for silicon materials and devices, and one which will strongly affect circuits and apparatus designs in the years to come [here is the hand-written edit] and contrary [to] the opinions expressed in this morning's session this will begin immediately." When questioned by the stupefied audience concerning whether TI was actually in production of the silicon transistor, Dr. Teal said, "Yes. I just happen to have some here in my coat pocket." He then gives them a practical demonstration of its effectiveness and everyone clamors for copies of the paper. What a glorious moment.
You can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon an image of the last page of that research paper with Dr. Teal’s hand-written edits in Baylor's Texas Collection archives.
That was the moment I was looking for, the point in time that described the characteristic of a man with imagination, creativity, and vision that was unfettered by the notion that it can’t be done. My portrait depicts Dr. Teal having just read the last line of his hand-written edits and reaching into his pocket to show the world the silicon transistor.