An Interview with Hans Camenzind


Oral History – Hans Camenzind



This was cheap for them and a chance for me to get started.  They paid $1200 a month for a year, and loaned me some of the equipment, which they didn’t need, since they had just lost 50% of their engineers.  So, it was an ideal situation.


This was an unusual arrangement for those days?

Yes, very unusual.  Unheard of.  Looking back I’m surprised that I took that risk.  I had a wife and four children at home, $400 in the bank, and I had been making $18,000 at Signetics, so this would be done to $14,4000.  But I quickly got two more contracts, so this worked out very well.  Nobody else followed me.  Signetics didn’t ask others to resign and take independent contracts. It just wasn’t done yet.


Getting back to the 555, what gave you the idea of a timer/oscillator chip?

I actually have to go back about two or three years, while I was still at PR Mallory company.   Being a research type, I could do anything that came to mind – I could explore. So, my background is in radio and telephone. I went to an apprenticeship in Switzerland with what they call a “radio mechanic” –  I fixed radios.  So, I knew what was required to integrate a radio, make a chip, to put a radio on silicon.








Oral History – Hans Camenzind



Had you started working with vacuum tubes earlier in Switzerland?

Oh yeah, absolutely.  The first time I encountered transistors was at college.  I had to write a term paper.  That was the first time I used transistors, which were very expensive.


But, having a background in radio, I thought it would be nice to make a chip that did all the functions of a radio.  The biggest obstacle was the tuned circuit.  When you look at a radio, it has these “IF cans”. A good one has at least three of these.  And, not only is this a component you can’t put on silicon, you know, inductors are very difficult to integrate, but these are very precise.  A radio station, say at 1 Mhz, the next station is 20Khz away.  So, that requires some precision.  And everybody was working on tuned circuits, or filters they called them, and I thought they were going the wrong way.  Since there are no inductors, there are capacitors in an integrated circuit, they had methods to make an inductor from a capacitor.  It was kind of a reflection of it (the capacitor) so they called it the gyrator.  A very fancy name. And I thought it was just an academic exercise that could never get the precision, so why bother.


I looked around, and thought that somewhere in the past, there must have been some attempt to make a tuned circuit other than with an LC or crystal. 


Go To Camenzind Oral History,Page 5



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