For Technologists, Recognition Takes Time

The annual IEEE Honors Ceremony gives decades-old breakthroughs their due

28 June 2012

On 30 June IEEE will bestow the technology equivalent of the movie industry’s Academy Awards to almost two dozen innovators. The annual IEEE Honors Ceremony will be held in Boston, but for those of you not attending, no worries, you can watch it live on at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Unlike Oscar winners, who receive awards for movies they’ve recently starred in, these technologists often don’t receive recognition until decades after they’ve come up with a breakthrough. In the technology world, it seems it takes time to prove the importance of your work.

After several years of honoring industry pioneers, this year’s top award, the IEEE Medal of Honor, went to a pioneer in academia: IEEE Fellow John L. Hennessy [shown above]. The president of Stanford University, “for pioneering the RISC processor architecture and for leadership in computer engineering and higher education.”

Hennessy led a team of Stanford researchers who in 1981 developed the RISC (reduced instruction set computing) architecture, which revolutionized the computer industry by increasing performance while reducing manufacturing costs. RISC is the basis for several computer platforms including the Advanced RISC Machine (ARM), found in most of today’s mobile devices.

He joined the university’s electrical engineering department in 1977 as an assistant professor and became a full professor in 1986. He was named president of the university in 2000. In recent years, his research has focused on the architecture of high-performance computers. Learn more about Hennessy, including his thoughts on the importance of online education, in IEEE Spectrum’s profile of him.

But Hennessy is just one of many important innovators to receive an award this year.

Life Fellow Leonard Kleinrock received this year’s IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Award for “pioneering contributions to modeling, analysis, and design of packet-switching networks.” Considered one of the fathers of the Internet for his development of packet-switching networks, Kleinrock developed the mathematical theory for these networks in the early 1960s as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Another innovator whose work decades ago recently earned him recognition is Fellow Michael Tompsett. He earned this year’s IEEE Edison Medal for “pioneering contributions to imaging devices, including charge-coupled device (CCD) imagers, cameras, and thermal imagers.” Tompsett advanced the concept of pioneers Willard Boyle and George E. Smith at Bell Labs by exploiting its potential for imaging applications. He led the development of the first full television-resolution CCD camera in 1976.

You can learn more about the recipients of this year’s awards in this ceremony booklet. If you know of an inventor whose work is deserving of an IEEE award, you have just a few more days—until 1 July—to nominate them for the 2013 awards. If you don’t have time to nominate someone for an IEEE medal, consider an IEEE Technical Field Award. Nominations for those awards are due 31 January. So don’t delay, we need more engineers to get the recognition they sorely deserve.


Photo: Stanford University

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