In Memoriam: March 2017

IEEE mourns the loss of three Fellows

30 March 2017

Jay W. Forrester

IEEE Medal of Honor recipient

Life Fellow, 98; died 16 November

Forrester received the 1972 IEEE Medal of Honor “for exceptional advances in the digital computer through his invention and application of the magnetic-core random-access memory, employing coincident current addressing.” He was a professor emeritus at MIT, where he worked for more than seven decades.

Forrester began his career in the late 1930s as a researcher at MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory, where he worked on electromagnetic devices that convert electricity into controlled motion using negative feedback mechanisms. In 1943 he developed a device that could control a radar antenna used on a system for intercepting aircraft.

Later, as head of the Digital Computer Division of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, in Lexington, Mass., he was a researcher with the Whirlwind project. Completed in 1951, Whirlwind was the first complete real-time computing system. Working on Whirlwind, he helped develop magnetic-core memory, which greatly increased computers’ capacity and dominated the industry for more than 20 years. In 1951 he founded MIT’s Digital Computer Laboratory and served as its director until 1956.

That year, he decided to move on from digital computing research and joined the faculty of MIT’s Sloan School of Management. There he founded the field of system dynamics modeling, a computer-aided approach to policy analysis.

He came up with system dynamics modeling while working on a project for General Electric. The company was dealing with large fluctuations in stock levels and workforce numbers at one of its appliance plants in Kentucky. Through interviews with plant managers, Forrester concluded that the fluctuations were caused by internal factors including policies for inventory control and hiring. He then developed computer simulations of the data he obtained from GE. Simulations of system dynamic are now indispensable in several fields, including astrophysics, biology, climatology, and social sciences.

Forrester wrote several books, including Industrial Dynamics (MIT Press, 1961), Principles of Systems (Wright-Allen Press, 1968), and World Dynamics (Wright-Allen Press, 1971).

He was elevated to Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1955 “for contributions to the development and engineering design of high-speed digital computers.” (AIEE and the Institute of Radio Engineers merged in 1963 to form IEEE.)

He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and earned a master’s degree in EE from MIT.


Erich Bloch

Codeveloper of a fundamental IBM mainframe computer

Life Fellow, 91; died 25 November

Bloch made significant contributions to the IBM System/360 mainframe computer, which would become fundamental to computing.

Born in Sulzburg, Germany, he was sent in 1939 to live in a home for refugees in Switzerland. His parents died in concentration camps during World War II.

He attended Federal Polytechnic Institute, in Zurich, before emigrating to the United States in 1948. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1952 from the University of Buffalo, in New York.

That year Bloch joined IBM, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he developed the first ferrite-core memory storage units to be used in computers. He also worked on IBM 7030 (known as Stretch), the first transistorized computer.

In the early 1960s he worked on the System/360, tasked with overseeing the development of solid logic technology for the memory circuitry that provided the mainframe computer with superior power and speed.

He climbed the ranks at IBM, becoming director of the Poughkeepsie laboratory in 1968, vice president of its System Products Division in 1976, and an IBM vice president in 1981. He retired in 1984 and was appointed director of the U.S. National Science Foundation. During his six-year term, he focused on fostering collaboration between industry and academia and helped establish engineering research centers on several university campuses.

He served on several IEEE Computer Society committees and was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 1980 “for technical and managerial contributions to computer component technology and production.”

In 1985, U.S. President Ronald Reagan awarded Bloch and two former IBM colleagues, IEEE Fellow Frederick P. Brooks and Bob Evans, the first National Medal of Technology and Innovation for revolutionizing data processing through their contributions to the development of the System/360.


Walter E. Morrow

Former director of MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Life Fellow, 88; died 12 February

Morrow led MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, in Lexington, Mass., for 21 years.

He joined Lincoln Laboratory in 1951 as a researcher in its long-range communications group, where he studied ionospheric and tropospheric beyond-the-horizon communication techniques. As director of the systems engineering group from 1955 to 1964, he led Project West Ford, a series of experiments that demonstrated the feasibility of using Earth-orbiting thin-wire reflectors to support long-range, high-frequency radio transmissions. For that work, he received an MIT Outstanding Achievement Award. He also led the laboratory’s Lincoln Experimental Satellite program and several technologies now incorporated in U.S. military satellite communications systems.

In 1969 he was named assistant director of Lincoln Laboratory. In that role, he helped establish its air traffic control program, which has developed a number of weather-forecasting and aircraft-safety systems. He was director of the laboratory from 1977 to 1998.

Morrow served on the U.S. Department of Defense Science Board as a member from 1987 to 2002 and as a senior fellow from 2002 to 2009. He was a member of the chief of naval operations executive panel, NASA’s advisory council, and the Air Force scientific advisory board.

He was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 1966 “for contributions to the development of space and tropospheric scatter communication systems.” Morrow received the 1976 IEEE Communications Society’s Edwin H. Armstrong Achievement Award.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from MIT.

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