Frank J. Biondi

Born: September 22, 1914 | Bethlehem, PA, US
Died: Sunday, October 5, 2003 | Palm Beach, FL, US

Frank J. Biondi majored in chemical engineering at Lehigh University, and worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL) in the 1930s. After being in industry for a short period of time, he decided to pursue a graduate education at Columbia University. After completing his master's degree in chemical engineering, he enrolled in the PhD program and became involved in the Manhattan Project. Biondi worked on a gaseous diffusion program to separate uranium 235 from uranium ore, designing the diffusion barrier used for the atom bomb. After making his contribution to the Manhattan Project, Biondi returned to BTL work and focused on electronics, initially developing long-life cathodes used by the British during the war. He continued cathode work, becoming involved with the ASTM to standardize three nickel alloys for electronics industry electron tube cathodes. Biondi's later work focused on fuel cells, the electronics industry's first dust-free white room, semiconductors used for satellites, and improvements in battery manufacture and design. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0147
No. of pages: 57
Minutes: 153

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray
19 March 1996
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

This interview discusses Frank J. Biondi's education, career, and involvement in The Electrochemical Society, beginning with college experiences as a chemical engineering major at Lehigh University and initial work at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL). Biondi describes his position within the structure of BTL in the 1930s and reasons for his pursuit of graduate education at Columbia University. After completing his master's degree in chemical engineering, he enrolled in the PhD program and became involved in the Manhattan Project. Biondi worked on a gaseous diffusion program to separate uranium 235 from uranium ore, designing the diffusion barrier used for the atom bomb. Biondi describes the reasons for Union Carbide's appropriation of his barrier's design and related patent applications and process details, and the subsequent manufacture of large amounts of barrier. After making his contribution to the Manhattan Project, Biondi returned to BTL work and focused on electronics, initially developing long-life cathodes used by the British during the war. He continued cathode work, becoming involved with the ASTM to standardize three nickel alloys for electronics industry electron tube cathodes. Biondi describes his rise through various BTL departments, his entry into transistor work, and associations with The ECS, which began in an effort to assure BTL metallurgists designing semiconductor devices an outlet for publishing and presenting their work. After touching on solid-state activity and descriptions of new electrochemical processes in ECS publications, the interview returns to Biondi's BTL career progress, particularly his work on transistors. As Biondi reviews his later career, he discusses fuel cell work, relationships with N. Bruce Hannay and R. M. Burns, the electronics industry's first dust-free white room, semiconductor work for satellites, and improvements in battery manufacture and design. The interview closes with comments on the effects of changes related to AT&T and Lucent Technologies, the future of The ECS, and consulting work since retirement from BTL. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1936 Lehigh University BS, with honors Chemical Engineering
1940 Columbia University MS Chemical Engineering
Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York Chemical Engineering (from 1940-1942)

Professional Experience

US Army Corps of Engineers

1940 to 1943
worked on the Manhattan Project

Bell Telephone Laboratories

1936 to 1948
Member of Technical Staff, Chemical Research and Development
1948 to 1958
Member of Technical Staff, Supervisor, Electronic Material and Processing
1958 to 1962
Department Head, Electronic Material and Processing
1962 to 1979
Laboratory Director, Electron Device Materials and Processes Laboratory

Bond Engineering, Inc.

1979 to 1989
President

Honors

Year(s) Award
1945

Certificate, US War Department, Army Service Forces/Corps of Engineers, Manhattan District, in appreciation for work essential to the production of the Atom Bomb

1946

Award for Chemical Engineering Achievement, Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering

Table of Contents

College Education
1

BS in chemical engineering from Lehigh University. Summer job and subsequent full time position at Bell Telephone Laboratories. MS in chemical engineering from Columbia University.

The Manhattan Project
3

Recruitment for the Manhattan Project at Columbia while working towards a PhD. Development of the gaseous diffusion barrier. Appropriation of Biondi's gaseous diffusion barrier by Foster Nix, then Union Carbide. Medal for work on the atomic bomb presented by US Secretary of War.

Early Career at Bell Telephone Laboratories
11

Improvement of magnetrons for wartime defense of England. Industry-wide specifications for materials used in the production of electron tubes written with the American Society for Testing and Materials. Family and community life. Promotion to supervisor. Development of transistors. Papers on semiconductor processes published through The Electrochemical Society (ECS). Creation of solid state activity in ECS. Installation of electronics industry's first white room.

Later Career at Bell Telephone Laboratories
21

Promotion to department head and laboratory director. Introduction of gold-plating of telephone connector wires. Development of hepafilters used in the production of transistors. Use of hepafilter room in hospitals. Institution of environmental protection policies. Consulting work with fuel cells for NASA's Gemini and Apollo space programs. Discovery of penicillin while creosoting wood.

The Future of Electrochemistry
32

Prediction of increased use of ionized gases and clean rooms. Discussion of Telstar I satellite and atomic bomb. Effect of changes with AT&T on Bell Labs. The future role of The ECS in the electronics business. Discussion of other scientific societies. Design and production of batteries for Bell Labs. Post Bell Labs consulting work.

Notes
49
Index
50

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.