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The Analog Designer Hall of Fame

Honoring great practitioners of a sport and other entertainers is pretty commonplace these days. The Baseball Hall of Fame may have started it all — founded by a hotel owner in 1939 to attract tourists to Cooperstown, NY.

Notable scientists and artists are enshrined (sometime entombed) in monumental buildings around the world. Westminster Abbey includes Ernest Rutherford, Isaac Newtown, William Blake, and Charles Dickens among a bunch of kings and politicians. In Paris, the Panthéon honors Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Voltaire, Rousseau, Émile Zola, and Victor Hugo.

For engineers, the civil authorities have not been so generous.

A few days ago, I thought I'd conduct a little research on the greats of analog design. This particular field of endeavor has only been around for six decades or so, but surely a handful of practitioners have already been identified and honored. It turns out that their greatness is likely to be interred with their bones.

I was surprised at the difficulty I had in finding a definitive list. It's not that engineers aren't recognized and honored from time to time. They receive awards from professional societies and are mentioned in books and magazine articles — but seldom if ever as a distinguished group.

Without a list that would make my job easy, I turned to another line of inquiry — the chips themselves. There are several websites chronicling semiconductor history with the most useful being “oral history” sites created and updated by individuals. The idea was to find the chips that made a big impact and trace them back to their designers. The low-hanging fruit includes:

  • The first monolithic op-amp IC, the Fairchild μA702, designed in 1963 by Bob Widlar.
  • The first IC logarithmic and antilogarithmic op amps and the first monolithic FET-input op amp, the Intersil ICL8007, designed by Dave Fullagar.
  • The '555 timer, designed in 1971 by Hans Camenzind for Signetics.

It wasn't too long before I realized that there were several problems with my approach:

  1. It included only chip designers — designers of many elegant analog circuits such as Jim Williams (Linear Technology) and Bob Pease (National Semiconductor) would be left out.
  2. Results seemed biased toward engineers working in California. In other words, localization can sometime be a problem with oral histories.
  3. There was also a strong bias toward the early days of semiconductor technology. Great chips and great circuits are still being designed today (although it might be best to wait a decade or two before pronouncing something great).
  4. The vacuum tube era would be ignored.

It just goes to show that it's a good idea to set up your performance criteria before you start writing.

But even this approach gets a little sticky fairly quickly. If we start by selecting a group of firsts (first charge pump, LDO, 3-terminal regulator, etc) should we pick the designer of the first device, or the first device to achieve market success? (Or, why not both?)

Does any phenomenally successful device automatically qualify the designer for the Hall of Fame — or should it just be a path to nomination? What about the equivalent of popular music's “one-hit wonders?” Lifetime achievers seem like a better qualification — to me at least.

Lifetime achievement is probably the only way to identify the analog application engineers. As for including engineers from the pre-semiconductor era, that seems fair enough — but now beyond the range of most people's memories.

I guess what I've learned in that selecting the “best of the best” is more than a one-person job. That's probably why I couldn't find that Analog Designer Hall of Fame list I was initially seeking — though it would be a good idea to have one. What are your thoughts on this?

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26 comments on “The Analog Designer Hall of Fame

  1. Joshua Israelsohn
    July 25, 2013

    An interesting notion. We should also remember Bob Widlar for the Widlar Current Source—a simple but effective improvement on its more basic predecessor.

    If you're collecting candidates, no Analog Hall of Fame should open its doors without recognizing Paul Brokaw for the Bandgap Reference or Barrie Gilbert for the Gilbert Multiplier Cell and the larger principle of translinear design.

    In many of these cases, historically important circuits derive from arrangements of only three or four transistors.

    Does anyone recall who invented the current mirror? The folded cascode?

  2. Jack Shandle
    July 25, 2013

    Joshua — Thanks for mentioning Paul Brokaw and Barrie Gilbert — both of whom are great designers. In fact, the reason for my writing this blog in the first place was to see if I could collect some names along with their innovations that might qualify them for special recognition. I was also thinking of contacting the curators of the “chip history” web sites I mentioned in the blog to see if they would be interested in collaborating on a hall of fame. As I also mentioned in the blog, some sort of criteria would be helpful — but a list of names/innovations would help with that because one could identify commonalities.

  3. eafpres
    July 25, 2013

    @Jack–I think it is a must to include tube-era heros.  Tubes are still used in guitar amplifiers and other music/audio equipment.  Possibly the most used tube ever is the 12AX7.  I thought of tube amps immediately when I started reading your article, probably becuase I am into guitars!  Unfortunately I am not expert on the development of the key parts, nor can I give you names.  Wikipedia says the 12AX7 was developed in 1946 at RCA, and that over 2 million a year are still produced.

    If you could definitively figure out who designed it I think that person should at least make the first ballot for the Hall of Fame voting.

  4. Scott Elder
    July 26, 2013

    SWITZERLAND

    Eric Vittoz 

    His contributions at Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in the early 1960s advanced the development of the first electronic wristwatch.

  5. Jack Shandle
    July 26, 2013

    I'm strongly inclined to include the vacuum tube era because it laid the foundation for everything that came later. (Not including it would be like not including designers of the propeller-drive era in an aviation design hall of fame.) After reading your post, I tried a patent search but did not find anything relevant in the first 20 minutes or so. (I found some interesting information about tubes generally). Patent searching is probably something of an art in itself. It's not surprising at all that searching on 12AX7 did not yield a result. I also tried retro valve because I saw the term in one of my earlier searches. If you could suggest other terms that might help in a patent search, I'd appreciate it.

  6. Jack Shandle
    July 26, 2013

    Scott — I'll add Eric Vittoz to the list. There must also be some Asian design engineers who contributed major innovations. When I mentioned that my first attempt to identify non-USA engineers was flawed by localization, I was specifically thinking about Japan. Japanese companies used to have a number of papers presented and published by ISSCC, for example. I'm also thinking about checking out corporate web sites (although early results have not been particularly promising).

  7. eafpres
    July 26, 2013

    @Jack–unfortunately the USPTO database does not provide for searching topics pre 1970's.  So without a patent number it is a dead end there.  I have not been able to find anything else.  I would guess there are community members here with a lot more knowledge about this than me.

  8. Brad_Albing
    July 27, 2013

    Jack – looks like little by little, your getting your list.

  9. Brad_Albing
    July 27, 2013

    Jack & Blaine – as you know, there are any number of transistor circuits that derive from tube circuits in their configuration. Which reminds me – ask one of these young whippersnappers why that particular two transistor arrangement is called a “cascode” configuration.

  10. Brad_Albing
    July 27, 2013

    @Blaine – might have to dig thru some radio, audio amplifier, or guitar amplifier patents to see if they cite the tube patent.

  11. jkvasan
    July 29, 2013

    Jack,

    I completely agree with you that we need to include vacuum tube era. I still remember the days I was working on valve AM radio. Actually I started my career just when the transition from valves to transistors was happening. So, we were expected to learn both valves and solid state devices.  I still remember the pentode – EL80.

  12. Jack Shandle
    July 29, 2013

    Brad — Thanks. I'll give that a try.

  13. Jack Shandle
    July 29, 2013

    Jayaraman — Do you have any suggestions for either a hall of fame candidate or an innovative device that could lead back to the designer?

  14. Brad_Albing
    July 29, 2013

    @Jack – I didn't mean you had to do that. I was hoping Blaine would and report his results back to us.

  15. jkvasan
    July 29, 2013

    Jack,

    I would put Lee Dee Forest, inventor of vacuum tube at the top of the list. Amplification, rectification, modulation, demodulation, you name it, valves started it. His invention, in my opinion, made cinema, what it is today.

     

  16. Jack Shandle
    July 30, 2013

    Jayaraman – Lee DeForest would be an excellent choice to be among the first group of hall of fame inductees for his groundbreaking work in inventing the triode (which he called the audion). I can't see much reason for not including him. He holds about 180 patents.

    There has been a long-simmering dispute about whether DeForest or John Ambrose Fleming invented the triode. Fleming received an earlier patent in England for an “electronic valve” and he also holds an American patent for the Fleming valve. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audion

    I would be inclined to include both of them.

  17. D Feucht
    July 31, 2013

    Jack, two thoughts come to mind about a Hall of Fame:

    1. Mexicans appreciate engineers. On the sidewalk in front of the Guadalajara telepone building stands a bronze statue of the engineer who built much of the early Guadalajara infrastructure. He is leaning on the buiding with one arm while holding a slide rule in his other hand.

    2. Tektronix internally had several Hall of Fame prospects, including Barrie Gilbert, but also others such as George Wilson (Wilson current mirror), John Addis, and Art Metz, about whom the outside world knows practically nothing but who is held in high esteem within Tek by fellow designers. Ian Getreu contributed much to modeling the BJT. Carl Battjes should certainly be included as a wideband amplifier designer. Then there is Howard Vollum himself. I would include Bruce Hofer, who is the analog founder of Audio Precision. So many talented people have come out of Tek that it would be hard to make a final selection.

    The problem with Halls of Fame is that they selectively venerate certain prominent individuals while many near-prominent people are left out – unless it is a very inclusive Hall.

  18. antedeluvian2
    July 31, 2013

    I propose Dr Trevor Wadley for his Wadley Loop. Now in truth I don't know much about it other than I worked for Racal for a while in South Africa, but wherever I travel and I encounter a radio enthusiast and he discovers where I am from, the Wadley Loop always comes up. My boss still scours E-Bay for the Barlow-Wadley XCR-30.

  19. Videobub
    July 31, 2013

    Maybe G. S. Meikle who invented the Tungar rectifier (https://sites.google.com/site/johnengsdeadtechrescue/photos/tungar-power-supplies-and-chargers).

    And Leo Esaki, inventer of the tunnel diode.

  20. Jack Shandle
    July 31, 2013

    Leo Esaki shared a Nobel Prize for his work in electron tunneling so I would have no argument with his nomination. Ditto for G.S. Meikle for his work with Irving Langmuir – they were the two guys at GE who were the first to study controlled rectification in gas tubes.

    Seems like the nominations are tilting toward the early years of electronics, which is probably a good thing because “greatness is for the ages.”

    Keep the nominations coming.

  21. Jack Shandle
    July 31, 2013

    One unintended consequency of writing my hall of fame blog is that I'm — happily — getting a short-course education in the history of electronics. The Wadley Loop is  a masterstroke of design for stabilizing superhetrodyne radio receivers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadley_Loop

    As Antedeluvian noted, iTrevor Lloyd Wadley was a South African electrical engineer.

    Good nomination, to say the least.

  22. Jack Shandle
    July 31, 2013

    @ D Feucht — Thanks for the recommendations (nominations) from Tek, which has a well-earned reputation for engineering innovation and excellence. (Tek has kind of cornered the market for Engineering Emmys in the field of TV technology, I think.)

    In any event, the list is getting longer. The more names the better is my perspective on this. I would favor the “big tent” approach at least initially.

    I was hoping that someone with personal knowledge (or even second hand knowledge) of the inner workings at engineering departments such as Tek would provide a few candidates who might be household names.

    Maybe we'll hear from National, Maxim, Linear Technology, Analog Devices and a whole lot more companies in the near future. 

     

  23. Videobub
    August 1, 2013

    There is a wealth of folks from the early days of electronics and physical properties. One is P. Langevin who explored piezoelectricity for sonar applications – in 1917! (http://www.ieee-uffc.org/main/history-bottom.asp).

    And is RF guru Ulrich L. Rhode on your list? 

  24. Jack Shandle
    August 2, 2013

    @Videobub – P. Langevin and Ulrich Rhode are on the list now.

    In case anyone is wondering, I've compiled the list as it stands after about a week of sporadic comments. Several names were suggested who worked for Tektronix, which is most appreciated.

    Perhaps some other corporate historians/librarians can contribute similar lists. The one-name suggestions are fine but a list that has already been culled is even better.

    Here's where we stand now:

    Bob Widlar, designer of the first monolithic op-amp IC, the Fairchild μA702
    Dave Fullagar, inventor of the first IC logarithmic and antilogarithmic op amps and the first monolithic FET-input op amp (ICL8007)
    Hans Camenzind, who designed the 555 timer
    Paul Brokaw for the Bandgap Reference
    Barrie Gilbert for the Gilbert Multiplier Cell
    Lee DeForest and/or John Ambrose Fleming, inventor the triode

    Several from Tektronix
    George Wilson (Wilson current mirror)
    John Addis
     Art Metz
    Ian Getreu contributed much to modeling the BJT.
    Carl Battjes should certainly be included as a wideband amplifier designer.
    Howard Vollum

    Dr Trevor Wadley for his Wadley Loop
    G. S. Meikle who invented the Tungar rectifier
    Leo Esaki, inventer of the tunnel diode
    P. Langevin who explored piezoelectricity for sonar applications
    Ulrich L. Rhode, RF guru

     

  25. jkvasan
    August 11, 2013

    Jack,

    I was searching for J.L.Baird, father of television and could not find his name. Am I missing it, by chance or is his name yet to be mentioned?

  26. bobzz
    September 23, 2015

    Harold Stephen Black – negative feedback

    Edwin Howard Armstrong – regen and super het circuits, he was also the one who figure out what to do with the audion / triode tube not De Forest

     

     

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