What do synthetic B vitamins and theories on the structure of matter have in common? Both came from the telephone company. In 1933, R.R. Williams and his colleagues at AT&T's Bell Laboratories synthesized the first B vitamin. Forty-four years later, Philip Anderson won the Nobel Prize in physics for his pioneering work in the subatomic structure and electrical properties of materials such as the transistor, another revolutionary Bell invention.
The fruits of Bell Labs' research efforts have been felt in practical ways - the light emitting diode (LED) in calculator or digital-watch displays came from Bell - and in the most arcane branches of theoretical astrophysics.
Radio astronomy was founded in the '30s when Bell scientists studied radio static interfering with transatlantic telephone transmissions. The study of cosmic radio waves has enormously increased understanding of interstellar space. Radio astronomy has since become a basic investigative technique in astrophysics.
Thirty years later, Bell physicists Arnold Penzias and Robert W. Wilson discovered background radiation left over from the primordial ''big bang'' thought to have marked the beginning of the universe. They made their Nobel Prize-winning discovery after cleaning debris out of one of Bell's microwave receiving antennas.
But some of the most promising future developments lie in computer technology.
Bell built the first transistorized digital computer. The labs continued their critical role in the evolution of computer technology by helping to develop semiconductors, integrated circuits, and microprocessors - the nuts and bolts of today's computers.
Magnetic bubble memories, a 1967 Bell Labs invention allowing enormous amounts of information to be stored in a small space, are beginning to find their way into the next generation of computers.
And the 1982 creation of the Josephson junction circuit - a tiny, superfast electrical switch operating in an ultracold liquid helium bath - holds the promise of baseball-sized computers processing more information faster than today's room-filling systems.