IEEE Honors the People Behind Everyday Technologies

Some of the brains behind totday's popular technologies were recognized at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony

7 November 2008

Think of your average day. You go to work, visit some Web sites, send e-mails from your BlackBerry, and go home and watch TV. But do you ever stop to think about the people behind the devices you use every day? Some of the brains behind these popular technologies were recognized at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony in September at the Quebec City Convention Center. The annual awards event honors brilliant individuals from the engineering community for their outstanding accomplishments.

You may not know all their names, but your daily life wouldn’t be the same without their work.

SEMI ROCK STAR Certainly the most familiar name belongs to IEEE Life Fellow Gordon Moore, awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor. He was honored for contributions to IC processing and leadership in the development of MOS memory, the semiconductor industry, and the microprocessor computer, considered by many to be among the most significant technological developments of all time. Moore cofounded two of the semiconductor industry’s most important companies, Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. He’s also the namesake of one of the guiding principles of the industry, Moore’s Law, which in 1965 predicted that the number of components the industry would be able to place on a computer chip would double every year. In 1975, he updated his prediction to once every two years.

In his acceptance speech in Quebec, Moore recalled his entry into what would become the semiconductor business when he joined the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1956, located in what later became known as Silicon Valley. “It’s been amazing to go through the evolution from struggling to make single transistors to today, when we put billions of transistors on a single chip,” he said. “No other industry I can identify has made such progress at that rate.”

After the ceremony, attendees lined up to shake Moore’s hand and get his autograph. Although he’s received many awards over the years, Moore said this was the first time something like that had happened. “I felt like a rock star,” he joked.

Other award recipients paid tribute to Moore, including IEEE Fellow Dov Frohman-Bentchkowsky. The former vice president and general manager of Intel in Israel, was awarded the IEEE Edison Medal for pioneering the development of MOS erasable, programmable read-only memory (EPROM), which led to the flash memory found in so many of today’s devices, including cellphones and personal computers. He recalled the early days of Intel, and how Moore played an integral role in his own personal success 40 years ago.

“We had just completed our evaluation of EPROM and had to decide what to do with it,” Frohman-Bentchkowsky recalls. He had proposed developing a then unheard-of 2048 bits of memory in a meeting with Moore and the company’s other decision makers. “There was complete silence, and everybody looked at Moore, who I was expecting to say, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ Instead, Gordon said, ‘Okay, let’s go for it.’ ”

WEB WIZARD Timothy Berners-Lee received the IEEE/Royal Society of Edinburgh Wolfson James Clerk Maxwell Award “for conceiving and further developing the World Wide Web.” He created the foundation for the Web when he wrote Enquire, his first program for storing information, while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium, an international organization that creates standards for Web technology. He is the consortium’s director, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and chair of the computer science department at the University of Southampton, in the U.K.

“One of the best things about the Web isn’t the technology, although that’s been fun—it’s the collaboration around the world of people setting up their own Web sites and working together on developing standards,” said Berners-Lee in his acceptance speech. “But the Web is not done. A lot more work is needed on standards, Web science must be studied, and we need to engineer a new Web.”

BLACKBERRY BRAINS The recipient of this year’s IEEE Corporate Innovation Recognition Award—Research in Motion, of Waterloo, Ont., Canada—developed the BlackBerry, the world’s first handheld integrated wireless e-mail system, in 1999. The device has transformed the way business is done today, making it possible to be connected around the clock. It’s also used by the hearing-impaired to communicate anywhere with anyone, by police to access criminal databases and dispatch alerts while moving in a vehicle, and by intensive-care units to quickly send lab results to doctors outside the hospital.

WI-FI WONDER IEEE Fellow Gerard J. Foschini received the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal “for seminal contributions to the science and technology of multiple-antenna wireless communications.” His breakthrough study examined the capacity of multiantenna channels over random fading wireless channels. He established that multiantenna transceivers can increase the number of information bits communicated, error-free, over the wireless channels, thereby enhancing system throughput. Foschini’s discoveries are core components of many of today's current and emerging wireless communications standards, such as IEEE Standard 802.11n, better known as IEEE Wi-Fi, and IEEE Standard 802.16e, popularly known as WiMax. Foschini has been a distinguished researcher at Bell Labs since 1961 and is currently on the faculty of Rutgers University’s graduate electrical engineering school in Piscataway, N.J.

PIONEERS Under the leadership of Jong Yong Yun, recipient of IEEE Honorary Membership, Samsung Electronics Co. has become a global leader in consumer electronics with such products as digital TVs, LCD screens, and memory. Yun has been chief executive officer of the company since 1997. He was honored for “exceptional achievements in pioneering technology-driven innovation within the electronics industry, advancing engineering education, and encouraging a multidisciplinary engineering community.” Yun also helped set up a scholarship program between Samsung and Seoul National University in South Korea that gives students who earn master’s degrees the opportunity to work for the company after they graduate.

Wolfgang Helfrich, Martin Schadt, and James Fergason were honored for their contributions to LCD technology. They shared the IEEE’s Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal for “pioneering development of twisted-nematic liquid crystal technology,” which has become the display technology of choice for laptop computers, cellphones, TVs, and many other products. Helfrich is a professor at the Institut für Theoretische Physik, Freie Universität, in Berlin; Schadt is managing director of MS High-Tech Consulting, in Seltisberg, Switzerland; and Fergason is founder of Fergason Patent Properties, an intellectual-property development and licensing company in Menlo Park, Calif.

NEW INDUCTEES The ceremony also saw the induction of three new Eminent Members of Eta Kappa Nu, the electrical and computer engineering honor society. The honor was given to IEEE Fellow H. Vincent Poor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University; IEEE Life Fellow Jose F. Valdez, chair of the board of Cosapi Data, in Lima, Peru, and CosapiSoft, in San Isidro, Peru, and founder of IEEE’s Peru Section; and IEEE Fellow William A. Wulf, a professor of computer science at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

You can see a list of all the award recipients here.

Read more about Gordon Moore in an IEEE Spectrum article [May 2008, “Gordon Moore’s Next Act”] and check out an interview with him.

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