March 1, 2024


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We remember Bell Labs as the legendary idea factory prepares to leave its New Jersey home

We remember Bell Labs as the legendary idea factory prepares to leave its New Jersey home

Mario Romero has worked in one of the busiest and highest-level research laboratories in the world for 30 years. But, if you ask him, it never felt like a job.

“Let me tell you, I never felt like I was going to work, ever,” said Romero, who retired as a corporate accountant in 2009 from the iconic Bell Labs headquarters in Murray Hill.

“I felt like I was going to school, I felt like I was going to learn something, that I was going to contribute something,” Romero, 64, said. “I don't feel that way.”

Romero and other former Bell Labs employees talk about their time working at the research company's historic headquarters in New Jersey with the same fondness that college graduates describe their universities.

Murray Hill's sprawling campus on Mountain View Boulevard has been a bustling hub of innovation in suburban Union County for decades. It served as the headquarters for a 90-year-old company whose researchers helped earn 10 Nobel Prizes, five Turing Awards for computer science achievements and more than 20,000 patents.

At its peak, Bell Labs employed nearly 15,000 people in New Jersey, including some of the world's best scientists and innovators. Many of them worked out of more than a half-dozen buildings spread across 240 acres at the country club-like Murray Hill headquarters on the border of Berkeley Heights and New Providence.

When Nokia Bell Labs, Nokia's research arm, said in early December that the company would move from its Murray Hill campus over the next five years to move to a new technology center being built in New Brunswick, the announcement sparked an outpouring of memories online from employees. Current and former.

Bell Laboratories at Murray Hill, shown here in 1960, was home to giants of the world of science and Nobel Prize winners.

“It was an honor to work there,” one former employee wrote on Facebook. Another said: “I will never forget the wonderful place I worked.”

Some of the world's most important discoveries have come out of Bell Labs, including the first transistor, lasers, radio astronomy, the dawn of cellular and satellite communications, and the beginnings of artificial intelligence. Bell Labs was also the birthplace of the UNIX computer operating system, C++, and many other programming languages.

Bell Labs began in 1925 as Bell Telephone Laboratories, a science and communications research arm of the Bell System with ownership split equally between AT&T and Western Electric. In its heyday, the laboratory produced Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and even helped the United States win World War II.

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In the 1980s, AT&T Technologies acquired the company, according to Nokia Bell Labs website. In 1996, AT&T spun off most of Bell Laboratories and its equipment manufacturing businesses into Lucent Technologies, leading to a series of ownership changes.

After the merger in 2007, Bell Laboratories and the former Research and Innovation Division of Alcatel were combined into a single organization. In 2016, Nokia acquired Alctael-Lucent, merging Bell Labs and FutureWorks, Nokia's research arm.

Bell Labs' new headquarters is located at the HELIX Innovation Center in New Brunswick. The HELIX Innovation Centre, originally known as 'The Hub', will be a large city center complex on the site of the former Ferren Mall.

Nokia said the change in location will help Nokia Bell Labs adapt and evolve to stay at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.

This is a big change for Bell Labs, which has served as a primary facility in Murray Hill and has several satellite locations throughout New Jersey.

The Bell Labs Research Center in Holmdel in Monmouth County has been the center of major scientific advances, including cellular technology and the horn antenna used to confirm the Big Bang theory.

But the company closed the site in 2006 and it was eventually purchased and redeveloped into a 2-million-square-foot work-live-play campus called Bell Works, which includes entertainment, dining and fitness facilities. The bell works It was named New Jersey's Most Iconic Building in 2018 by Architectural Digest.

It's unclear what will happen to the Murray Hill site once Bell Labs leaves. The mayors of New Providence and Berkeley Heights said they are working with each other, as well as state and local officials, to find a new use for the property.

“Our priority will be to preserve open space, explore recreational opportunities, protect environmentally sensitive areas, ensure we meet our affordability requirements, and attract businesses that will support our community,” New Providence Mayor Al Morgan said in a statement.

In 1927, scientists at Bell Laboratories developed equipment for the first full motion picture film with synchronized sound, rather than silent film. The discovery changed motion pictures.

“Factory of ideas”

Science fiction author and futurist Arthur C. Clark described Bell Labs as an “idea factory” when he visited Murray Hill headquarters in the late 1950s.

“At first glance, when one sees it in its surprisingly rural setting, the main site of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey looks like a large, modern factory, and to some extent it is,” Clark wrote in his 1958 book, “The Voice Across the Sea,” about the history of communications. Transcontinental: “It is a factory of ideas, and therefore its production lines are invisible.”

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Bell Labs opened its headquarters in Murray Hill in 1942, just as the United States was mired in World War II.

The laboratory was essential to the war effort, conducting wartime research projects, according to newspaper articles of the time. Researchers worked to find alternatives to rare resources, including copper and quartz, which were difficult to obtain at the time.

Bell Labs helped develop synthetic crystals for the US Navy's sonar equipment, according to news articles. Sonar was instrumental in thwarting the Nazi submarine campaign and enabled American submarines to destroy Japanese ships.

Physicists at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill were also responsible for creating the transistor in 1947, which transformed communications and sparked a revolution in electronics. The transistor would later become a key component of the Telstar 1 satellite, the first active communications satellite to orbit to transmit live television and telephone signals between the United States and Europe.

“The satellite was built at a special Bell Laboratories plant in Hillsdale, New Jersey — and underwent testing at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill and Whippany — and signals transmitted via Telstar from the ground station in Andover, Maine, were picked up by a massive horn antenna at Bell Laboratories in Holmdel,” According to a July 1962 article in the Bridgeton Evening News.

Bill Murray Hill Laboratories researchers George Smith and Willard Boyle, in 1969. They later won the Nobel Prize for pioneering an image sensor known as the charge-coupled device, which revolutionized photography.

Some inventors who spent time at Murray Hill have won the Nobel Prize for their discoveries.

In 2009, two Bell Labs scientists who created the technology behind digital photography were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Willard S. was honored Boyle, then 85 years old, and George E. Smith, then 79, for inventing the digital camera eye, a sensor capable of converting light into a large number of pixels, the tiny colored dots that make up the blocks of each digital image. This technology is found in devices ranging from the cheapest point-and-shoot digital camera to robotic medical instruments that allow surgeons to perform precise operations inside the human body.

Bell Labs has also been the site of extraordinary achievement through leadership Black scientists and engineersAccording to research I published American Institute of Physics.

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Physicist and inventor James West created the microchip microphone—a small microphone that required no battery—that revolutionized the communications industry. Today, about 90% of microphone technology is based on the electret microphone, and the invention has been used in hearing instruments and space technology, according to the American Institute of Physics.

When West arrived at Bell Labs in 1957, there were only seven black technical workers.

West and a small number of black professionals at Bell Labs formed the Association of Black Laboratory Employees in 1970 to promote diversity in the STEM world. At the group's request, Bell Labs agreed to fund a first-of-its-kind fellowship program that recruited promising scientists of color, funded their doctoral research, and paired them with a mentor already on the Bell Labs staff.

The fellowship program has continued to support graduates including James Hunt, who co-invented the Hunt-Szymanski algorithm that is widely used in computer science and mathematics.

Among the scientists at Bell Laboratories at Murray Hill was inventor James West, creator of the electret microphone, which became the standard microphone used in products ranging from recording equipment to hearing aids.

Even when the company began to change ownership, it continued to produce new innovations.

In 1989, researchers at AT&T Bell Laboratories created a new computer chip, called an optical integrated circuit, capable of handling 2,048 transactions simultaneously, according to a story in The Star-Ledger.

The following year, scientists at Murray Hill confirmed the existence of a third state of matter, known as “quasicrystals,” according to a 1990 article in The Star-Ledger.

Bell Labs' new home at Helix, New Brunswick, will break ground in 2025. The state-of-the-art facility will be developed by SJP Properties with support from the New Brunswick Development Corporation, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the city. New Brunswick.

Nokia Bell Labs will be moved by 2028 to a state-of-the-art R&D facility in New Brunswick, shown here in an artist rendering.

A Nokia spokeswoman said Bell Labs does not expect to reduce its headcount due to the move.

The new building in New Brunswick will contain “customized” laboratories designed specifically to meet the needs and areas of focus of Bell Labs researchers, the company said.

“Ultimately, we want a facility that feels right for the next 100 years of Nokia Bell Labs,” Nishant Batra, Nokia's chief strategy and technology officer, said last month when the move was announced.

In 1969, Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson developed UNIX, a computer programming language.
In 1958, Bell Labs invented the optical maser, the beginning of the modern laser.
In 1948, Claude Shannon, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, developed the basics of information theory, the mathematical study of measuring, storing, and transmitting information.
In 1927, Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first long-distance public television broadcasting in the United States.

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Jackie Roman It can be reached at [email protected].