- Vicenza, Italy
- Associated organizations
- Fields of study
- W. Wallace McDowell Award
Federico Faggin was born on 1 December 1941 in Vicenza, Italy, the son of Giuseppe and Emma Faggin. After attending technical high school, he went to work for Olivetti in Borgolombardo, Italy, where he designed his first computer at the age of 19. He attended the University of Padua, earning a doctorate in 1965. That same year he joined the faculty at the University of Padua as an assistant professor before taking a job as a senior engineer at the CERES corporation the following year. Soon after, Faggin left CERES and went to work for SGS Fairchild in Milan. There he developed a method of manufacturing metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuits, as well as designing the first two commercial ones. In 1968, he left Italy for the United States to work at Fairchild’s parent company, Fairchild Semiconductor in Palo Alto, California, which had been founded by Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and others about a decade earlier.
While at Fairchild, Faggin developed silicon gate technology. This replaced the aluminum control gates, which up to that time, had been used in MOS transistors. Silicon gates were faster, used less energy, and required less space on the microchip. The first silicon gate integrated circuits became commercially available in October of 1968, and today almost 90% of all semiconductors use silicon gate technology.
In 1970, Faggin moved to a new company called Intel, which Noyce and Moore founded a couple years earlier. Faggin was eager to return to designing circuits and Intel put him in charge of designing an integrated circuit for the Japanese calculator manufacturer Busicom. Faggin, along with colleagues Ted Hoff and Stanley Mazor, envisioned a single chip that could perform functions that had been performed by numerous chips. The result was the Intel 4004, the world’s first microprocessor.
In 1974, Faggin left Intel to found Zilog Corporation, and codesigned its most famous product, the Z80 microprocessor. More than one billion Z80s were eventually sold, and it remained in production for well over twenty years. Exxon Enterprises, which had supplied Zilog with venture capital, acquired Zilog in 1981. After the acquisition, Faggin left the company and cofounded Cygnet Technologies, which built intelligent voice and data peripherals for personal computers. In 1986, Faggin cofounded yet another company, Synaptics, Inc., which specializes in neural network technologies as well as computer/human interface devices based on touch, sound, and sight. This allowed computers to adapt to human behavior rather than forcing users to adapt to the computer. Faggin has been Chairman of the Board since January 1999.
In 1988, Faggin was awarded the Marconi Foundation Fellowship “for his pioneering contributions to the implementation of the microprocessor, a principle building block of telecommunications.” That same year, he was also awarded the Gold Medal for Science and Technology by the President of the government of Italy. In 1994 he received the IEEE’s W. Wallace McDowell Award for his work in silicon gate technology and microprocessors and in 1996, Faggin was inducted in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame for the co-invention of the microprocessor.