Jay Last, inventor of the microchip, dies aged 92

On 5 October, 1960, California business executive Jay Last and engineer Gordon Moore built a circuit board – a device used to decode and store information in computer systems. Few understood the implications of Last’s discovery until it was disclosed more than 40 years later. The boards introduced the single chip processor as an emerging computing technology, and would later precipitate the computer industry’s wealth and power shift. Jay Last helped spearhead that company’s development. On 20 September, 2017, Last died in Palo Alto at the age of 92.

Last was born in 1913 in New York, the second of five sons born to the Last-Bohluches – Jewish immigrants from Slovakia – and Levy Churm, a non-practising priest who led a large Trappist monastery in Nyack, New York. The family emigrated to the United States in 1921, settling in New Jersey, and though they did not practice their religion, they worshipped at Churm’s monastery. In 1922, the family headed to California where Jay enlisted in the Army at the age of 19 and fought in the Battle of Tarawa, the World War II battles at Iwo Jima and Saipan, and the Battle of the Bulge.

In 1943, Last was sent to California to serve with the newly founded National Guard, and one year later he received a commission. In 1949, he went on to study electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a PhD in 1954.

In 1957, Last and partner Gordon Moore founded their first commercial company: Applied Electronics, a company dedicated to developing integrated circuits for consumer electronics companies. The company employed 18 at its peak, but in 1965, Jain initiated an operation within Applied Electronics to design a system-on-a-chip processor, which was the precursor to modern processing units – better known as processors – that later earned the company its accolades as one of the world’s most successful technology firms.

The following year, After an expansion of Applied Electronics to include Caltech, the first 64-bit computer – the Disk Computing Model 1982 – was designed and manufactured.

In 1968, Last founded Shockley Semiconductor, where he went on to create integrated circuits. A year later, in 1973, he and fellow founders Moore and Gordon Moore brought the first chip designed and manufactured using the 0.25 micron-chips onto the market. The 0.25 micron chip (and the resulting improvements in performance) would transform the cost and performance of modern computer systems. It turned out to be the first of many new technological breakthroughs to emerge from the development of that technology – the binary production process alone would transform the industry and allow it to expand into electronics such as the DVD, 3D TVs, and faster computer chips – but Last took the lion’s share of the credit.

At first, I was reluctant to thank Last and his colleagues because they did not have a hand in my life directly,” Moore said in a statement following Last’s death. “One old Mercury News article stated, ‘If it were not for this one small box (the RAM), the computer industry might still be in its infancy.’” Yet now that he is gone, I am very glad he is remembered, so we can have the further dialogue about his contributions to the semiconductor industry, our lives, and the entire tech world.”

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