John Bardeen

John Bardeen was born in Madison, Wisconsin on May 23, 1908. His father, Charles Russell Bardeen, was the first graduate of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and founder of the Medical School at the University of Wisconsin. His mother, Althea Harmer, studied oriental art at the Pratt Institute and practiced interior design in Chicago. Bardeen was one of five children. He completed both his elementary and secondary education in Madison. 
John Bardeen, 1962
From a young age he was fascinated with engineering and mathematics, and pursued his interest to the University of Wisconsin. While at University, he took a semester off to work at the engineering department at Western Electric, but eventually graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering 1928. His B.S. was followed by a M.S. a year later (also from the University of Wisconsin.

In the next twenty-two years Bardeen would bounce from lab-to-lab all over the United States. Professor Leo J. Peters, under whom his research in geophysics was done, took a position at the Gulf Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Bardeen followed him there and worked during the next three years (1930-33) on the development of methods for the interpretation of magnetic and gravitational surveys. This was an exciting time in the field: geophysical methods were first being applied to prospecting for oil.
John Bardeen Explaining an Equation, 1963
Because he felt his interests were in theoretical science, Dr. Bardeen resigned his position at Gulf in 1933 to take graduate work in mathematical physics at Princeton University. It was here, under the leadership of Professor E.P. Wigner, that he first became interested in solid state physics.

Before completing his thesis (on the theory of the work function of metals) he was offered a position as Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He spent the next three years there working on problems in cohesion and electrical conduction in metals and also did some work on the level density of nuclei. His Ph.D. from Princeton was awarded in 1936.

From 1938-41 Dr. Bardeen was an assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota. His war years were spent working as a civilian physicist at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, where he worked on the influence fields of ships for application to underwater ordnance and minesweeping. After the war, he joined the solid-state research group at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and remained there until 1951, when he was appointed Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Physics at the University of Illinois.
John Bardeen with Transistor Prototype, 1988
At Illinois, Bardeen was responsible for establishing two major programs: one in the Electrical Engineering Department dealing with both experimental and theoretical aspects of semiconductors, and one in the Physics Department which dealt with theoretical aspects of macroscopic quantum systems, particularly superconductivity and quantum liquids.

In research, Bardeen was also a resounding success. His microscopic theory of superconductivity, developed in collaboration with L.N. Cooper and J.R. Schrieffer in 1956 and 1957, has had profound implications for nearly every field of physics from elementary particle to nuclear and the helium liquids to neutron stars. Furthermore, in his nearly sixty year career, he made significant advancements to practically every aspect of condensed matter physics. 

Bardeen is also recognized for being the only person to receive two Nobel Prizes (both in Physics). The first he received in 1956, which he shared the with William Shockley of Semiconductor Laboratory of Beckman Instruments and Walter Brattain of Bell Telephone Laboratories "for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect".

Image of, from left to right, John Robert Schrieffer , John Bardeen, and Leon Cooper who developed the BCS Theory regarding superconductivity, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972, circa 1968.

In 1972, Bardeen’s  second Nobel Prize he shared with Leon N Cooper of Brown University and John Robert Schrieffer of the University of Pennsylvania “for their jointly developed theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory”.

He continued to publish research up until his death at age eighty two on January 30th, 1991.

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Works Cited:

Board Of University of Illinois Trustees. (2013). “John Bardeen”. Physics Illinois. Retrieved March 7th, 2013 from

“John Bardeen Digital Archives” (2013).University Archives. Retrieved on March 7th, 2013 from

The Nobel Foundation (2013). “John Bardeen-Biography”. Retrieved on March 7th, 2013 from

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