ADLE’s Top 10 analog engineers

This started out as a rough list of who's who in the analog world – pure background research for ADLE. A challenge by my managing editor to produce 'a list of top 10 analog gurus' has turned it into a more serious affair, although I intend it to be a 'live' list and will update it and extend it, as and when I find new candidates/extra information on those mentioned below.

I would note that this is a personal list, and it is published with the best of intentions – notably to generate discussion, and to celebrate the ingenuity of some of the best known engineers practiced in the 'art of analog' past and present.

1. George Philbrick (US) – commercialised the op amp through his company George A. Philbrick Researches (GAP/R), though credit goes to a young engineer at Columbia University, Loebe Julie, for designing it. An entrepreneur and successful business man, but also well aware of the importance of communicating and sharing his ideas, Philbrick published The Lightning Empiricist, a journal that appeared over two decades to share news and insights. He also published the Philbrick Applications Manual and contributed articles widely.

Though his vacuum tube op amps are unrecognisable in the op amps of today, Philbrick's combination of technical and business savvy ensures that his name, if not the company he founded, lives on in the memory of the analog engineering community today.

If you are interested in reading more about George Philbrick, take a look at Joe Sousa's excellent web archive

2. Bernard Gordon (born 1927, US) – A prolific inventor (his name is on over 200 patents) and founder of Gordon Engineering, later renamed Analogic. Though initially refused entry to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he joined the US Navy's officer training program and was sent there to further his studies. After serving on destroyer escorts, he returned to MIT on the GI Bill, graduating with bachelor and master degrees in electrical engineering.

Gordon first worked at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, where he participated in the development of UNIVAC, the world's first commercial digital computer. He is often referred to as 'the father of analog-to-digital conversion ' for his engineering contributions from that time.

In 1953, Gordon co-founded EPSCO, Inc. where he was involved in the development of the dot matrix display (with An Wang), foetal monitors, air traffic control systems and digital Doppler radar, to name a few. In 1964, Gordon founded his own development company, Gordon Engineering, whose products included the first solid-state X-ray generator. Gordon Engineering became Analogic Corporation in 1969, from which he retired in 2004. However, at the time of writing, he is still actively engaged in another company he co-founded, NeuroLogica, which makes medical imaging equipment.

3. Jim Solomon (born 1936, US) – A student under IC design pioneer Professor Donald Pederson at UC Berkeley, Solomon spent one half of his career as an ic designer – for the first seven years he was at Motorola designing analog ics, and then moved to National Semiconductor as a designer and design manager. During this period he invented the biFET op amp and wrote a paper that gained him an IEEE Fellowship.

For the second half of his career, Solomon applied his IC design knowledge to pioneer the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry, co-founding Cadence. There he held numerous roles, including President and CEO, General Manager of the IC unit, and CTO, and also founded Cadence's Analog/Custom Business Unit, where he initiated the development of perhaps the best-known analog simulator, Spectre.

Solomon now plays an active managerial and advisory role for a number of young companies and start-ups, including Gemini Design Technology, Applied Wave Research, Ciranova, Nascentric, Pyxis Technology and Silicon Navigator. For more, read ADLE's interview with Jim Solomon here.

4. Barrie Gilbert (born 1937, UK) – Gilbert's engineering career started out at the Signals Research and Development Establishment (SRDE), and included Mullard Ltd., Tektronix, Plessey Research Laboratories and Analog Devices. Best known for the 'Gilbert cell', an electronic multiplying mixer, he has filed over 40 patents and won a plethora of industry awards, including receiving the ISSCC's Outstanding Paper Award five times. He is an IEEE Life Fellow and ADI Fellow.

Perhaps the best way in to Barrie Gilbert's life and career is through a moving and engaging personal account of his early years that was published in the IEEE SSCS 2007 Autumn edition. Gilbert's account shows him to be the archetypal inventor – someone who recognises a need and provides a solution, before being requested. He's also a highly intuitive engineer. Talking about the IC design process, he says 'I give it considerable latitude to guide me. I allow it to breathe; to talk to me.' Both innovator and mentor/educator (read his ‘Wit and Wisdom of Dr Leif’), Gilbert heeded the call to cross the Atlantic to pursue the wider opportunities there, establishing a pattern that would be followed by several generations of engineers.

5. Bob J. Widlar (born 1937, US) – Widlar was a technical instructor in the US Air Force, when in 1959, he began studying for a bachelor's degree in electrical through the University of Colorado's Extension Centre. During this time, he was also working for Ball Brothers Research Corporation designing linear and digital circuits.

In 1963, a year after graduating, Widlar went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor and designed the first commercially successful IC op amp – the A709. Legend has it that after being refused a raise at Fairchild, he joined the then flegling National Semiconductor and that his designs were largely responsible for making National the leader in linear circuits.

“Bob Widlar was a Silicon Valley original and a true genius,” stated Charles E. Sporck, president of National Semiconductor, in Widlar's New York Times obituary (he died aged just 53). “He was the world's first, and, by any margin, greatest linear designer.”

6. Bob Pease (born 1940, US) – Pease joined George A. Philbrick Researches in 1961 straight after graduating from MIT. He was mentored by George Philbrick himself, and designed op amplifiers, analog computing modules and voltage-frequency converters for the company. He joined National Semiconductor in 1976, continuing a hands-on design career and becoming National's analog guru in residence. As well as designing power regulators, voltage references, voltage-to-frequency converters, temperature sensors and amplifiers, he has become well-known for his work on bandgaps and has 21 patents to his name.

Those outside National Semiconductor are likely to know Pease from his column in Electronics Design magazine, and many articles in the trade press. He also wrote the top-selling textbook, Troubleshooting Analog Circuits. Pease gets my vote for his honest and un-complicated writing style, and for his active mentorship of others – through his lectures, and generously giving of his time to answer questions from mailbox respondents that invariably start with 'I am trying to build a …'

7. Bob Dobkin (born US, 1945) – Dobkin started his career at Philbrick-Nexus (a colleague of Bob Pease), after studying at MIT. Dobkin then took over as director of advanced circuit development at National Semiconductor Corp from Bob Widlar. There he developed the first three-terminal adjustable voltage regulator, the first bipolar low-dropout regulator, and boosted early op-amp speed.

In 1981, Dobkin co-founded Linear Technology Corp. with Robert Swanson, where he holds the positions of VP Engineering and CTO. Dobkin has some 90 patents to his name and has designed many classic analog parts, including the very recent LT3080 and earlier LM317. For more on Bob Dobkin, there's a great transcript of an interview between him and Jim Williams

8. Jim Williams (born 1953, US) – Jim Williams taught analog-circuit design at MIT before being persuaded into the commercial sphere to work at National Semiconductor. He went onto join the then start-up Linear Technology, where he has been a staff scientist ever since.

Williams is an 'engineer's engineer' – transfixed with analog circuit design, though not at the expense of digital. Williams has written lots of articles defending the role analog plays in the digital revolution, which is perhaps one of the reasons why analog engineering skills are viewed in such high regard today.

Author of several books, including A Designer's Guide to Innovative Linear Circuits, The Art and Science of Analog Circuit Design and Analog Circuit Design: Art, Science and Personalities, Williams has done much to encourage the view of analog design as an art. He subscribes to the view that there's no 'right' way and says that successful engineers can be recognised by their 'style'.

9. Dennis Monticelli (US) – Dennis Monticelli is chief technology officer for analog technologies at National Semiconductor. Monticelli received his bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1974 and joined National Semiconductor upon graduation. For 16 years he worked on a wide variety of analog and mixed-signal development projects, both as a circuit designer and as design manager. He was selected to lead the newly formed Power Management business unit in 1991 and promoted to vice president in 1995. He currently holds 20 patents in the area of circuit design and is a member of the National Semiconductor Patent Hall of Fame.

Monticelli pioneered LDO voltage regulators and developed the Simple Switcher product family at National – a complete switching regulator on a single chip. He introduced the first high-performance CMOS operational amplifiers as well as the first low power, high-speed complementary bipolar operational amplifiers. He has also helped define several innovative wafer fabrication processes during his time at National. For more, read ADLE's interview with Dennis Monticelli here.

10. Tom Hornak – Hornak received a doctorate in engineering from the Czech technical university in Prague. He joined HP's corporate research laboratories in 1968, where his research covered high speed analog to digital converters, high speed fiber optic data communication systems, electronic instruments and ics for wireless communication. He has published more than 50 papers and holds more than 60 patents. Hornak has participated actively in the analog community, holding both the post of Chairman of the IEEE's Solid-state Circuits and Technology Committee, and editing the IEEE Journal of Solid-state Circuits.

So, who have I missed? I would love to hear your thoughts on this – have you changes to the running order and an explanation of your criteria, or additional thoughts on the individuals mentioned above, or some more European analog engineers? All suggestions are warmly welcomed.

Make your own recommendation by using the comment facility below, or sending an email to vknivett at gmail dot com. Please put 'analog guru' in the subject line. I'll publish a list of suggestions in a week or so.

p.s. A note on my methodology (on which the academics amongst you may shudder!): Whilst I have born in mind measurables such as the number of citations in published work, and number and relevance of patents attributed to an individual, this list also makes use of various snippets of analog folklore, as gleaned in various published articles. On the subject of method, I admit to having consciously sought out a couple of European analog engineers for my list (though I would like to find more), which is roughly organised into historical order rather than any ranking of expertise.

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