John Bardeen was born on May 23, 1908 in Madison, Wisconsin. His mother was an interior designer and his father was a professor of medicine. It was obvious that he was intelligent at a young age and was allowed to skip four years of grade school.
After high school, he studied at the University of Madison, working towards a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. During his education, he also took a short while to work as an engineering intern at Western Electric Company in Chicago. After graduation, John became a graduate research assistant and conducted work with Leo Peters in geophysics and radio waves.
In 1930, he left with Peters to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, they were given research positions at Gulf Research Laboratories and worked there until 1933. During that time, John worked on developing methods for interpreting magnetic geological surveys.
In 1933, John began his graduate studies in physics at Princeton University. During his free time, he worked at Harvard with Professor Van Vleck and Professor Bridgman on research in cohesion and conductivity of metals. He graduated with his Ph.D. in 1936.
In 1938, he was given a position as assistant professor of physics in the University of Minnesota's faculty. He worked there until 1941, when he left to work as a research physicist at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington D.C. His primary reason for working there was to assist in the war effort against Japan and Germany. His research focused on minesweeping using magnetism.
In 1945, after the war ended, he joined Bell Labs to work in solid state physics research.
In 1951, he became a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Urbana-Champaign in Illinois. His research with Walter Brattain and William Shockley culminated in the development of the first working solid state transistor. The group was nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956 for their work and won. The invention of the transistor revolutionized the electronics industry and led to many important advancements, including the development of personal computers.
In 1957, he participated in research on superconductivity that resulted in the development of the first working explanation of superconductors. In 1972, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize again for his superconductivity theory and managed to win, making him the first physicist in history to earn the Nobel Prize twice.
In 1990, he was named one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life Magazine. He had also received the 1965 Medal of Science, 1976 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and 16 honorary doctorates.
John Bardeen died from cardiac arrest on January 30, 1991 in Boston, Massachussetts.