An Interview with Gordon Moore
Photo of Gordon Moore

Interview by Jill Wolfson, San Jose Mercury News; and Teo Cervantes, James Lick High School.

Interview photos by Len Lahman, San Jose Mercury News

Transcribed by Jean Ricket, Tech Museum volunteer


Teo Cervantes
Three decades ago, in an obscure industry magazine, a little known scientist named Gordon Moore postulated what has come to be known as Moore's Law: He predicted that the power of the silicon chip would double almost annually, with a proportionate decrease in cost.

With this, he forecast and played a leading role in ushering in the computer revolution.

Cervantes: I was wondering what your interests were in school?
Moore: I started out when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I got interested in in chemistry. My next door neighbor got a chemistry set for Christmas. I started playing with him and that set. In those days you got really neat chemicals in the chemistry set. You could make explosives and a variety of things.

I got interested in chemistry. My next door neighbor got a chemistry set for Christmas. I started playing with him and that set.

Math came fairly easy for me. I took all the math courses around, but I was interested in athletics, too. In high school, I had four letters in four different sports.

I was never the best, but I was always good enough to play in the games. I spent a lot more time playing sports than I did doing homework, I have to admit. It wasn't really until my senior year in high school that I settled down and really started to study a bit.


I spent a lot more time playing sports than I did doing homework, I have to admit.
Wolfson: Would your friends from high school be surprised at the level of your success? Would they say 'Gee, I would never have picked him to...'
Moore: That's a hard question to answer. I don't see my high school friends very often. The first time I came back was for my 20th high school reunion. I think they would be somewhat surprised. I certainly wasn't the best student in the class.
Cervantes: What was the big step that took you from science into high tech?
Moore: I finished my training as a scientist, got a Ph.D. in chemistry, took a job working for one of the laboratories that was sponsored by the government. It was the applied physics laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Doing development of Navy missiles was its principal job.

I was studying some things that were interesting to me and I found myself calculating the cost per word in the published articles, wondering if at $5 per word the tax payer was really getting the benefit out of this work that he should. It was reasonably good fundamental research, but on problems of very narrow interest. So, I thought I maybe should get into something a little more practical.


I was more of an engineer than a scientist in that having some practical outcome from what I did was important. With my chemistry set, I had to get a good explosion at the end or I wasn't happy.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with Bill Shockley, the inventor of the transistor at Bell Labs.
He was setting up a company back in California to try to make this new device, a silicon transistor, and this sounded very attractive to me. I liked the idea of moving back to where I wanted to move. Secondly it was still something with a high technical content, but with a very specific goal in mind. So, I jumped at the opportunity and came out here and joined him.

I guess, by inclination, I was more of an engineer than a scientist in that having some practical outcome from what I did was important. With my chemistry set, I had to get a good explosion at the end or I wasn't happy.