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Dr. Carver Mead of CalTech Honored for His Contributions to Today's Microcircuit Industry

San Francisco, CA (April 22, 1999) —The Lemelson-MIT Program has awarded its annual $500,000 prize — the world's largest single prize for invention and innovation — to Dr. Carver Mead, a visionary in the field of microelectronics and Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at California Institute of Technology. Dr. Mead was selected for his many contributions to the field of microelectronics, which have led to a new business model for the industry and enabled a new wave of innovation in information technology.

Dr. Mead's major innovations include what is now called HEMT, the standard amplifying device used in microwave communication systems, which consumers use every day when making telephone calls or dialing into the Internet. HEMT is also used in satellite and fiber optic links and cellular telephones.

He is also well known for pioneering computer automation through his design concept for VLSI (very-large-scale integrated) circuits, called structured custom design, which is used today by all semiconductor companies. His work with VLSI is also aimed at teaching engineering students how to design microchips, directly contributing to an explosion in the number of new chips on the market.

Dr. Mead's other work involves experimenting with neuromorphic electronic systems, which are systems that are closely modeled on the functions of living nervous systems. He and his students hold key patents on systems modeled after the vision, hearing and learning of humans. According to Mead, products based on these principles have the potential to transform the interface between computers and images, sounds and people.

Dr. Mead holds BS, MS and PhD degrees from the California Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 40 years. Throughout his career as an inventor, author and educator, Mead has received more than a dozen honors in the microelectronics and engineering fields. He holds over 50 US patents, has written and contributed to more than 100 scientific publications, and holds fellowships or distinguished memberships in seven different scientific and professional societies.

Mead grew up in Big Creek, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, where he attended a back-woods school with twenty students and one or two teachers, depending on the year. He cites his sixth grade teacher as a major influence for introducing him to the world of mathematics and science. "He gave me a book that contained some elementary trigonometry, and I saw how to tell the height of a tree without climbing it." Mead also credits his father with introducing him to electrical phenomena by bringing home cast-off batteries, switches, and other gear from his job at the local power plant.

"The Lemelson-MIT Program is helping us all move forward toward a new model where we find greater respect and acceptance for those who think unconventionally," says Mead. "There are young people out there all the time thinking of new ways to do things. It is really great that programs like Lemelson-MIT exist to encourage those people to set their own course."

The Lemelson-MIT Prize is awarded annually to a living American inventor who has significantly contributed to society through invention and who has shown a tireless commitment to stimulating invention and creativity in the US.

"Carver has demonstrated a unique ability to identify areas of developing importance in electronics and to jump in at the right time to accelerate progress," says Gordon E. Moore, Chairman Emeritus, Intel Corporation. "His contributions to VLSI design trained a generation of engineers that has driven the semiconductor industry, and his work on electronic analogs and biological systems has advanced both neural networks and our understanding of how our eyes and ears process information."

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Dr. Stephanie L. Kwolek, retired DuPont chemist, received the 1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award. Both Mead and Kwolek were honored at a black-tie Lemelson-MIT Awards ceremony at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on April 22, 1999. To read about former Lemelson-MIT Award winners, see our Winners' Circle page.

Read more about Dr. Carver Mead.

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