2005 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
Robert Dennard, who grew up in rural Texas and started school in
a one-room schoolhouse, says he “had a lot of time to think
and read and contemplate.” He recounts that he was always
looking for better ways to do things, such as a faster way to chop
kindling for the stoves.
|Photo by Alan Orling, courtesy of IBM
He later brought this penchant for improvement to IBM, where he
developed the one-transistor dynamic random access memory (DRAM)—the
paragon for low cost digital memory, ubiquitous in the computer
industry today. At IBM, he also developed a significant theory on
electronic device scaling, which has been a driving force in microelectronics.
For these achievements, Dennard is the 2005 recipient of the $100,000
Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1966 Dennard was a member of an IBM team doing research on a
six-transistor memory cell, and he thought there must be a simpler
method to build memory in this technology. His solution evolved
as a single field-effect transistor that performed the reading and
writing of information stored as an electric charge on a capacitor,
now commonly known as a DRAM cell. This technology, patented in
1968, expended less energy and was cheaper than earlier magnetic
memory. It was introduced in products on the market in the 1970s
and today is the foundation for memory (RAM) in most computer components
Dennard and his colleagues also conceived the scaling theory,
a concept of reducing the dimensions of metal-oxide field effect
transistors (MOSFETs) and their interconnecting wires, which led
to denser, less expensive and faster integrated circuits, whose
properties grew directly proportional to the degree of miniaturization.
Dennard published this theory in 1974 in the paper “Design
of Ion-Implanted MOSFETs With Very Small Physical Dimensions.”
It is now a “Classic Paper” as recognized by the Proceedings
of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1999.
The scaling theory, which drives miniaturization in the industry,
has enabled computing to be portable, from laptops to cell phones
to other technological devices. He has continued to build on the
scaling theory over the last 30 years at IBM, where engineers have
pushed the edges of the theory’s physical limits.
Dennard received his B.S. (1954) and M.S. (1956) in electrical engineering
from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and his Ph.D.
(1958) in electrical engineering from Carnegie Institute of Technology
in Pittsburgh, Pa., today Carnegie Mellon University. After completing
his degrees, Dennard joined IBM , where he continues research today
as an IBM Fellow at Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “I wasn’t
that involved in really creative things until I came to IBM and
they handed me a patent notebook, and they said, ‘put all
your ideas in here,’” remarked Dennard. Since 1965,
he has been granted 35 U.S. patents in semiconductors and microelectronics.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of
the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Dennard
is a recipient of the National Medal of Technology (1988), the Harvey
Prize from Technion (Israel, 1990) and the IEEE Edison Medal (2001),
among others. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of
Fame in 1997. According to Dennard, “The most important thing
about the inventive process is seeing the problem and asking questions:
what if ... we did this, why does this have to be this way ... isn’t
there a better way to do it?”
Dennard was named the 2007 laureate for the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering, awarded annually by The Franklin Institute.
IBM profile on Robert Dennard