1999 Lemelson-MIT Prize Winner
|Photo by Jon Brennis, California Institute of Technology
A trigonometry book and electrical equipment from a power plant
was all Dr. Carver Mead needed to whet his appetite for math and
physics as a child. Traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains to attend
the California Institute of Technology as a young adult, Mead embarked
on a lifelong journey in physics and microelectronics—where
he would revolutionize the semiconductor industry with very-large-integrated
circuits. In 1999, he was awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.
A computer automation pioneer, Mead challenged the 1960s belief
that a chip's transistor could not be smaller than 10 microns. In
his 1969 design concept for VLSI (very-large-scale integrated) circuits,
Mead proved that transistors could be as small as .15 microns. This
design was eventually adopted among all semiconductor companies
and has resulted in a variety of new microchips.
Mead also laid the foundations for the Information Age with his
gallium-arsenide transistor, which evolved into HEMTthe universal
amplifying device in microwave receivers used in a myriad of telecommunication
A trailblazer in neuromorphic electronic systems, much of Mead's
work builds off of the principle of modeling systems according to
the functions of the human nervous system. One such derivative is
the touch padproducts that are altering the user interface to computers.
In 1999, as chairman and founder of Foveon, Inc., he designed a
new digital camera with image sensors set in silicon to capture
each pixel color—red, green and blue—producing better
quality photos than today's cameras that only detect one color.
A native of Big Creek, CA, Mead received his B.S. (1956), M.S.
(1957) and Ph.D. (1960) in Electrical Engineering from the California
Institute of Technology. Born in 1934, Mead has been teaching since
he received his M.S. and is now the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor
of Engineering and Applied Science at CalTech. As a Professor, Mead
has collaborated on several of his 50+ patents and 100+ scientific
papers with his studentsreturning the inspiration and learning
that guided him through the years from his school teachers, father
and CalTech Professors Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman, both Nobel
A fellow of the American Physical Society and member of the National
Academy of Engineering, Mead has received an honorary degree from
the University of Southern California and an honorary doctorate
from the University of Lund, plus awards, including the Harry Goode
Memorial Award (1985).