INVENTOR OF MODERN COMPUTER MEMORY RECEIVES
$100,000 LEMELSON-MIT LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Portland, OR (April 21, 2005) — “Take two
aspirin and call me in the morning,” was the response Dr.
Robert Dennard received when he first proposed a new way of arranging
transistors and capacitors onto a single silicon chip. This week,
Dennard will receive the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement
Award for this invention, dynamic random access memory (DRAM), a
breakthrough that transformed the microelectronics industry in the
early 1970s and remains the most popular form of computer memory
“Dr. Dennard’s technical innovations have led the
way from bulky room-sized computers to the ‘portable age’
of cellular phones and laptop computers we have today,” said
Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which sponsors
the annual award.
Dennard will receive his award this Friday, April 22, during the
11th annual Lemelson-MIT Awards Ceremony, being held at the Oregon
Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The award honors a remarkable
individual for his or her life-long commitment to improving society
A LITTLE CHIP GOES A LONG WAY
“It is truly unusual in a field moving as rapidly as semiconductor
technology to have an invention endure over three decades, but there
is still no technology on the horizon to replace the single-transistor
DRAM cell,” Gordon Moore, co-founder and chairman emeritus
at Intel, wrote in his recommendation letter for Dennard.
Before Dennard created the DRAM cell at IBM in 1967, technology
companies had been using magnetic memory and were running into problems
extending its use. Magnetic memory consumed a lot of power and was
DRAM was a novel alternative because it was much smaller, required
less power and was significantly less costly.
The first commercial DRAM chips were introduced in the 1970s.
They contained a few thousand memory cells, or bits, but the density
improved rapidly. Today's chips can hold up to a billion bits of
information and provide the RAM function in all computers from laptops
to supercomputers. DRAM, integrated with a special purpose processor
to form a system-on-a-chip (SOC), is used in pervasive applications
from communications network switches to digital cameras.
“I’m often asked if I could foresee how important
(DRAM) would become,” said Dennard. “I knew it was going
to be a big thing, but I didn’t know it would grow to have
the wide impact that it has today.”
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BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER
In the early 1970s, Dennard and his team at IBM had another significant
breakthrough in the field of microelectronics. At the time, technology
companies were struggling with whether bipolar-transistor-based
integrated circuits were the ideal building blocks of high performance
electronics. Although bipolar-transistors were intrinsically faster,
Dennard thought the metal-oxide field effect transistor (MOSFET)
offered a better alternative because of its amenability to large-scale
integration with high density and good yield.
He and his team developed a scaling theory, demonstrating that
if all dimensions of a MOSFET device were reduced simultaneously,
along with proportional changes in operating voltage and the silicon
doping concentration, they could continue to make smaller and smaller
devices that performed better, required less power, were denser
and less expensive.
“Dennard’s development of scaling theory has been
a driving force in microelectronics,” wrote IBM Senior Vice
President of Technology and Manufacturing, Nicholas Donofrio, in
his recommendation letter.
Dennard’s paper devoted to this theory, “Design of
Ion-Implanted MOSFETs with Very Small Physical Dimensions,”
published in 1974, is universally referenced as a guide to designing
devices down to submicron dimensions. Additionally, it was recognized
as a “Classic Paper” and reprinted in Proceedings of
the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1999.
Throughout his career, Dennard’s work has resulted in 35
patents, nearly 90 published technical papers and numerous awards,
including the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald
Reagan in 1988 and induction into the National Inventors Hall of
Fame in 1997.
According to Dimitri A. Antoniadis, an electrical engineering
professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most
relevant inventions underlying modern computing are the integrated
circuit, the MOSFET, the one-transistor DRAM cell and the magnetic
disk. “I believe that this puts into perspective the great
significance of Dennard’s contributions to his industry and
more importantly to society at large,” he said.
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ALSO BEING HONORED...
In addition to honoring Dennard’s achievements, the Lemelson-MIT
Program is awarding Elwood “Woody” Norris the program’s
$500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize at this week’s ceremony. One of
Norris’ inventions, HyperSonic Sound®, has the potential
to transform acoustics of the future by enabling sound to be targeted
to an individual listener.
ABOUT THE $100,000 LEMELSON-MIT LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
The $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes
the nation’s most talented inventors and innovators. It promotes
living role models in the fields of science, engineering, medicine
and entrepreneurship in the hope of encouraging future generations
to follow their examples.
Other distinguished inventors who have previously received the
Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award include Ruth Rogan Benerito,
inventor of easy-care cotton; Raymond Damadian, inventor of the
first Magnetic Resonance (MR) Scanning Machine; Al Gross, inventor
of the walkie-talkie and pager; and Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of
Kevlar®, a material used in products ranging from bullet-proof
vests to airplanes.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration
to make invention and innovation more accessible to today’s
youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities
and annual awards, including the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the
largest single award in the United States for invention.
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world’s most prolific inventors,
and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation,
a private philanthropy that uses its resources to inspire, encourage
and recognize inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a growing
emphasis on those who harness invention for sustainable development
where the needs are greatest. More information is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent/.
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