The University of Utah Notebook

Alumni Profile: Frank M. Wanlass

~ In Memoriam ~  Frank M. Wanlass, BS’58, PhD’62 Photo courtesy of National Inventors Hall of Fame

~ In Memoriam ~ Frank M. Wanlass, BS’58, PhD’62 Photo courtesy of National Inventors Hall of Fame

This year’s alumni profile introduces Frank M. Wanlass, BS’58, PhD’62.

Wanlass was born in 1933 in Thatcher, Arizona. He spent his childhood years in Nephi, Utah; Pleasant Grove, Utah; and Mesa, Arizona, before his family moved to Ogden when he was 11. He graduated from Ogden High School and started his higher education at Weber State University.

He served in the Army intelligence corps during the Korean War from 1953 to 1955 before enrolling at the University of Utah as an undergraduate. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1958 and a PhD in physics in 1962 at the U. Henry Eyring was his mentor and chair of his PhD faculty committee.

Wanlass joined Fairchild Semiconductor where he utilized Fairchild’s planar manufacturing process to improve the stability of silicon field-effect transistors by joining p-channel and n-channel transistors.

In a period of remarkable creativity, Wanlass explored the chemistry and physics of Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) structures, built MOS integrated circuits, and considered how various MOS phenomena could be commercially exploited. Wanlass’s greatest technological contribution was the invention of CMOS (Complementary MOS), which led to transistor circuits that consumed almost no power in standby operation.

In fact, Wanlass’s demonstration version of CMOS drew less power than the day’s state-of-the-art bipolar circuits by a factor of one million! Because of their extremely low power requirements, CMOS chips were well suited to battery-powered devices. In fact, the digital watch was one of the first products to make use of CMOS technology.

The image processor and motherboard of a Nikon digital camera. CMOS allows such complex devices to run on batteries.

The image processor and motherboard of a Nikon digital camera. CMOS allows such complex devices to run on batteries.

Wanlass quit working at Fairchild in December 1963 to join a start-up company, General Microelectronics, where the first MOS product was completed in 1964, a few months ahead of Fairchild, and first used in a commercial product in 1965.

He was given U.S. patent #3,356,858 for “Low Stand-By Power Complementary Field Effect Circuitry” in 1967. He also made significant contributions to solving threshold voltage stability in MOS transistors due to sodium ion drift. Wanlass left General Microelectronics in 1964 to join General Instruments in New York and develop their integratedcircuit business. General Instruments eventually let him set up a research laboratory in Utah.

“It’s impossible to underestimate the impact that Wanlass’ discovery and invention has had on scientific and consumer electronics,” says Pierre Sokolsky, dean of the College of Science. “It’s been nearly 50 years since it’s discovery, and now CMOS chip technology is everywhere, from advanced scientific detectors to digital cameras and cell phones.”

In 2009, Wanlass was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring and encouraging invention and creativity. The Hall of Fame honors the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social, and economic progress possible.

Sadly, Wanlass passed away on September 9, 2010, due to complications of diabetes. He is survived by his brothers John, David, William, and Mark, and their families, as well as by his four children and 14 grandchildren.

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