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An electronics visionary

Founding father of vlsi, pioneer of semiconductor design tools and a passionate advocate of analogue electronics. It can only be Professor Carver Mead, says David Boothroyd.

For decades, Professor Carver Mead has been a charismatic figure in the global electronics industry; someone who genuinely deserves the title 'visionary'. Now approaching 70, Mead recently retired from his full time academic position – Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) – where he had taught for more than 40 years.

His achievements go back to the late 1960s, when he was one of the first to look into the future of the semiconductor industry and consider how small a functioning transistor could be (his answer: 0.15um). He forecast that, within 15 years, millions of transistors would fit on a single chip – at the time, a revolutionary idea at which many scoffed, but one which played an important part in setting the electronics industry on its dramatic course to vlsi technology.

Other specific innovations include the high electron mobility transistor, or hemt, now the standard amplifying device for microwave communication systems, and used widely in satellite, fibre optic and mobile telephones. In the design field, Mead developed the foundations for vlsi with his structured custom design approach, used throughout the semiconductor industry. His 1970s book 'Introduction to VLSI Systems' is seen as the field's classic textbook. He is also credited with pioneering the idea of the silicon foundry.

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Graham Pitcher

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