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The Scarlet & Black

BBC to make documentary on Robert Noyce ’49

From Feb 7 to 9, a British Broadcasting Company (BBC) film crew collected footage of interviews with professors, science experiments and farm animals for a documentary on Robert Noyce ’49.

The documentary, scheduled to air sometime in the spring on BBC, will focus on former Trustee Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel.

John Das, the documentary’s producer, writer and director, said his interest in Noyce is largely due to his unique figure as an inventor and entrepreneur. “He was basically the key pioneer of Silicon Valley because the companies he set up defined what Silicon Valley actually became,” Das said.

Das’ interest in Noyce’s early days brought him to Grinnell, where he first began the experiments that would lead him to inventing the integrated circuit. During their time in Grinnell, the BBC crew focused on how Grinnell impacted Noyce’s life as an entrepreneur.
“They [were] really looking at the Grinnell portion of the Robert Noyce story as Grinnell being the starting place of this man’s incredible journey,” said Kate Worster ’87, director of Communication.

According to Das, Noyce’s years as a physics student at Grinnell were especially formative. “He tried to create an environment where everyone could talk to each other, exchange ideas. … He liked to be in the lab bouncing ideas off people. … He was very non-hierarchical in that sense and he encouraged scientists to think as freely as possible,” Das said. “I think that is something that comes back to his Grinnell upbringing.”

For the documentary’s setting, the crew captured the town, campus and Iowa’s agricultural landscapes. Das said they specifically filmed a Grinnell area pig farm to help tell the infamous pig slaughter story, in which Noyce stole an area hog and butchered it in Clark Hall.
The crew filmed a lecture by William Case, Physics, on Noyce’s innovations. “They were looking for different ways to explain exactly how the transistor and integrated circuit work for someone who might not have an idea about those things,” said Anders Ahlberg ‘10, who sat in on the lecture.

The documentarians interviewed former president George Drake, History, and Charlie Duke, Physics about their experiences with Noyce. “He was very open with his eye on accomplishing things but not on status,” said Drake, who was on the Board of Trustees with Noyce. “In that way, I think he was a very typical Grinnelian.”

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