IEEE Honors Those Who Engineered the Future

Cheap and compact semiconductor memory, programming language design, and deep-space communications are among technologies that were recognized

6 August 2009

Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and other pioneers who founded the American Institute of Electrical Engineers 125 years ago paved the way for countless others, including those responsible for the more recent advances we enjoy today.

At its 2009 Honors Ceremony in June, IEEE paid tribute to these newer trailblazers who contributed breakthroughs in such areas as cheap and compact semiconductor memory, programming language design, deep-space communications, and broadband optical-fiber transmission. These were just some of the achievements cited at this year’s ceremony.

“None of the recipients could have accomplished their goals without building on the efforts of others who came before them,” said IEEE President-Elect Pedro Ray, who along with President John Vig, served as master of ceremonies.

The annual event, held this year on 25 June at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, honors individuals and companies from the engineering community for outstanding accomplishments. The theme, in light of IEEE’s 125th anniversary, was “Celebrating 125 Years of Engineering the Future.” IEEE honored 18 recipients, including four students, Eta Kappa Nu Eminent Members, and two commercial organizations. The event was streamed live on for the first time and can now be viewed on its home page.

“I doubt anyone present at the founding of IEEE could have envisioned life as it is today,” Vig said. “But I suspect that our early leaders recognized a remarkable future was on the way.”

COMPUTING CHAMPIONS IEEE Medal of Honor recipient Robert H. Dennard probably could not have foreseen the astonishing future for the single-transistor dynamic random access memory (DRAM) he developed in 1968. The Life Fellow was honored for the DRAM and for developing scaling principles for ICs. Now used by all computer system manufacturers, DRAM required less power and cost much less than the magnetic memory it replaced. And then it got incredibly smaller and cheaper still.

Dennard worked at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. At the time, the largest memory capacity in a computer was 1 megabyte and used several kilowatts of power. Today, 1 to 2 gigabytes of DRAM is common in a personal computer, and powering it requires only a few watts. Dennard’s scaling theory has also been a driving force in microelectronics. He and his colleagues developed a scaling concept for metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) transistors and circuits that enables the systematic reduction of MOS dimensions.

“This is a great honor for DRAM and scaling, which have been so successful because of a steady flow of new ideas and improved technologies,” Dennard said in accepting his medal. “I am amazed at how much our lives have been impacted by the resulting growth in computing capability.”

Fellow Chenming Calvin Hu was also recognized for work on MOS. Hu received the IEEE Jun-Ichi Nishizawa Medal for “technical contributions to MOS device reliability, scaling of CMOS, and compact device modeling.” Hu is a professor of microelectronics at the University of California, Berkeley. He has addressed reliability and scaling issues with models and simulation tools that are critical to the capabilities of today’s semiconductors. His work led to smaller yet higher-performance ICs. In his acceptance speech, Hu noted that IEEE’s journals and conferences “provide a forum for the exchange of ideas but, more importantly, they provide an environment that stimulates and helps every member be creative.”

“Imagine if IEEE did not exist,” he said. “What would be the state of electrical science, engineering, and information technology? I don’t think [the world] would be as pretty a place to live in.”

Senior Member Susan L. Graham was recognized with the IEEE Jon von Neumann Medal for contributions to programming language design and implementation, and for exemplary service to computer science. Graham is the Pehong Chen Distringuished professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science in the Graduate Division at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work greatly influenced software development and high-performance computing. She developed a pattern-matching algorithm for generating machine code for high-level languages that is key to today’s processors as well as to the elimination-style algorithm for flow analysis.

“I never saw or used a computer until I was a junior in high school,” she said. “I had the good fortune to start my career in a field that was also starting.”

TELECOM LEADERS Life Fellow Robert J. McEliece received the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal for “fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of error codes and to the design of deep-space telecommunication systems.” He is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at CalTech and is a consultant at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. His research in error-correcting codes has been instrumental in solving problems in information theory and coding. McEliece was one of the first researchers to study convolutional codes, now a staple of channel coding for deep-space communications systems.

“The composer Igor Stravinsky said that mediocre scientists plagiarize but that great scientists collaborate,” McEliece said. “I consider myself a collaborator, and I’d like to thank all those who collaborated with me. These are very powerful Jedi.”

For his leadership, vision, and pioneering contributions in the field of broadband optical-fiber communications, Life Fellow Tingye Li received the IEEE Edison Medal. Li shaped the light-wave network infrastructure used today in high-speed telecommunications systems. Now retired, he led several research groups at AT&T Bell Labs that demonstrated the first optical repeaters and experimented with systems showing the potential of fiber-optic technology.

Two organizations were honored with IEEE Corporate Innovation recognitions. Corning, in Corning, N.Y., was cited for “sustained, outstanding contributions to fiber-optic technology” and, in particular, to its recent development of highly flexible fiber. Its ClearCurve optical fiber is 100 times more flexible than standard optical fiber but has virtually no signal loss.

The IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center was recognized for its long-term commitment to pioneering research, innovative development, and commercialization in the area of speech recognition. Its speech recognition products, including Simply Speaking and ViaVoice, let PC users create documents without typing.

NEW INDUCTEES The honors ceremony also saw the induction of two new Eminent Members of Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), the electrical and computer engineering honor society, which recently announced a merger with IEEE.Only 122 people have been named to the grade, HKN's highest membership classification, since it was established in 1950. The elite group includes some of the most eminent innovators and leaders in engineering. The honor was given to IEEE Fellow Eric Herz and to Gerald J. Posakony.

Herz is a former engineering and program manager in the aerospace industry and served as president of HKN. He was an officer of the IEEE Foundation as well as general manager and executive director of IEEE for 14 years before retiring in 1992. He is now an IEEE director emeritus. An active volunteer, he held numerous positions, including chair of the San Diego Section, officer of Region 6, president of the IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society, IEEE vice president for Technical Activities, and leader in more than a dozen IEEE and inter-society conferences. He has been a member of the IEEE Board of Directors since 1976.

“Eric has been and continues to be an inspiration to all who have known him,” Vig said. “He has served IEEE for 58 years and has been a mentor and adviser to volunteers and staff alike.”

Posakony is a senior research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in Richland, Wash., where his work involves ultrasonic transducers and wave propagation, and sonochemistry. He was the lead engineer for an ultrasonic diagnostic imaging system that investigated disease processes in humans. That technology serves as the basis for most of today’s ultrasonic devices. Posakony also received an honorary membership in IEEE.

STUDENT INNOVATORS Winners of the Presidents’ Change the World Competition, one of IEEE’s 125th-anniversary activities, were also recognized at the ceremony. The contest called for students to develop unique solutions to real-world problems using engineering, science, computing, and leadership skills to benefit their communities and/or humanity. Students from Stanford took the top prize of US $10 000 for their handheld diagnostic lab.

You can check out a list of all the award recipients, and read more about Dennard in a May 2009 IEEE Spectrum article, “Thanks for the Memories.”

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