In Memoriam: January 2011

IEEE mourns the passing of the following members

6 January 2011

James J. Thomas
Computer scientist
Member, 64; died 6 August

James J. Thomas was a professor, researcher, scientist, and entrepreneur in the field of computer visualization.

He began his career in 1971 at General Motors Co. in Warren, Mich., where he researched computer graphics and visual analytics. He left after five years to join the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in Richland, Wash., as a laboratory Fellow. There, a number of years later he founded and directed the Department of Homeland Security’s National Visualization and Analytics Center. He also served as an adjunct professor at the Joint Center for Graduate Study in Richland (now a Washington State University campus).

After retiring from the lab in 2009, Thomas founded Discover Visual Analytics, a company in Richland that provides consulting services and lectures in its area of expertise.

Thomas was an active IEEE volunteer. He was editor in chief of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications from 1999 to 2002, and he chaired the IEEE Visualization Conference in 2003. He served on the editorial board of IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, and in 2006 he helped launch the IEEE Visual Analytics Science and Technology Symposium.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1968 from Eastern Washington University in Cheney and a master’s degree in 1971 in computer science from Washington State University in Pullman.


Charles A. Desoer
Electrical engineer
Life Fellow, 84; died 1 November

Charles A. Desoer was a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley.

He joined Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., in 1953, and researched network theory. He left in 1958 to take a teaching position at Berkeley. He retired in 1993, and later was named professor emeritus.

Desoer earned a bachelor’s degree in radio engineering from the University of Liège, in Belgium, in 1949, and a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1953 from MIT.


The following individuals were not IEEE members but did pioneering work in an IEEE field of interest.

Georges Charpak
86; died 29 September

Georges Charpak’s inventions led to advances in physics, medicine, and biology.

He began his career in 1959 when he joined the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva. He was part of a team there in 1961 that discovered the muon was not a separate particle of the nucleus but instead a heavy electron. In 1968, he invented the multiwire proportional tracking chamber, the device for which he won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics. The tracking chamber sifts through the billions of hurtling subatomic particles created by collisions in particle accelerators. The invention led to discoveries about the nature of matter by improving physicists’ ability to measure and record what goes on inside accelerators.

He later applied his discoveries to biology and medicine. His research led to the development of a camera used by NASA to monitor astronauts’ hearts. He also developed an X-ray machine that emits 10 percent of the radiation of a conventional X-ray, and he worked on ways to reprogram cancerous cells so they would no longer be malignant. He retired from CERN in 1991.

Charpak earned a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering in 1948 from the École des Mines and a doctorate in nuclear physics in 1954 from the Collège de France, both in Paris.


Joseph G. Gavin Jr.
Aeronautical engineer
90; died 30 October

Joseph G. Gavin Jr. was a pioneer of early space travel.

Gavin joined Grumman Aircraft Co., in Bethpage, N.Y., in 1946 as a design engineer working on Navy fighters. Eventually, he managed the 7500-member team that built the Eagle spacecraft, which landed on the moon’s surface on 20 July 1969. As director of the lunar module program, he was in charge of ensuring the craft would land gently on the moon, and take off again to rejoin a larger spacecraft in lunar orbit. He went on to serve as director of the Apollo lunar module program at Grumman and chief operating officer and chairman of the executive committee of the parent Grumman Corp. He was president of the company from 1972 to 1985. Following his retirement in 1985, he advised the U.S. government on energy policy and space matters.

Gavin earned a bachelor’s degree in 1941 and a master’s degree one year later from MIT, both in aeronautical engineering.

Learn More