Former IEEE Chief Financial Officer Richard Schwartz Dies at 77

IEEE also mourns the loss of a computing pioneer and others

4 min read

Richard D. Schwartz

Former IEEE chief financial officer

Life member, 77; died 22 October

Schwartz served as CFO of IEEE from 1993 to 2010. He touched the lives of his colleagues at the organization, many of whom wrote condolences in response to his obituary.

After serving in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which specializes in air assault operations. He enjoyed a career as a business executive that spanned four decades.

Schwartz, an avid fan of the New York Yankees and Jets, loved to play golf.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Iona University, in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Vincent J. Mancino

Former manager of engineering reliability at RCA

Life senior member, 93; died 24 September

For most of his career, Mancino worked as an engineer at RCA, which was headquartered in New York City.

While serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he participated in an atomic bomb test in Nevada.

Mancino began his career at RCA in 1951 as an electromagnetic compatibility engineer in Camden, N.J. He briefly left the company in 1961 to join Cornell Dubilier of New Bedford, Mass., as chief engineer in its filter division. He returned to RCA two years later as a senior engineer at its Burlington, Mass., location. There he was responsible for designing and developing computer-controlled automated test equipment.

He later transferred to RCA’s astro electronics division in Hightstown, N.J. As a senior engineer, he worked on weather and communication satellites for the U.S. Air Force. He moved up the career ladder and served as manager of engineering reliability.

Mancino, a member of the IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society, was inducted in 2007 into its Hall of Fame.

He volunteered for several nonprofits in his home state of New Jersey. He helped found the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Monmouth County chapter and served as its first secretary. A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, he served as a financial officer in Sandy Hook and a flotilla commander in Monmouth Beach.

Mancino earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1951 from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. A decade later he earned a master’s degree in engineering from Drexel University, in Philadelphia.

Joel Moses

MIT professor emeritus

Life Fellow, 80; died 29 May

Moses taught electrical engineering and computer science at MIT for 50 years. He held several leadership positions at the institute and was named an institute professor emeritus in 1999. He probably was best known for developing Macsyma, MIT Project MAC’s symbolic manipulator. It was one of the first computer systems capable of manipulating complex mathematical expressions.

Moses earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 1967 from MIT. He conducted his dissertation research under the supervision of IEEE Fellow Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence pioneer. Moses’s graduate thesis laid the groundwork for Macsyma.

He joined MIT in 1968 as an assistant professor of computer science and was a member of the school’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (now the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), where he developed algorithms that could simplify and integrate mathematical expressions.

In 1970 Moses began focusing on Macsyma, which became faster and more accurate than its predecessors. He oversaw its development from 1971 until the system’s release in 1982.

“Problems in engineering or physics that would have taken six or seven months to calculate could be solved in under an hour by Macsyma,” according to Moses’s MIT News obituary. Now known as Maxima, it is one of the oldest general-purpose computer algebra systems still in use.

Moses was promoted in 1981 to head the electrical engineering and computer science department. That year, he launched a popular series, nicknamed the “Moses Seminar,” at which faculty from each MIT school discussed technology issues. The series led to the creation of a symposium that sought to build bridges between faculty in the humanities, engineering, and science.

Later, as dean of engineering, Moses launched Engineering With a Big E, a strategy to include concepts from the social sciences and management in the engineering curriculum.

He also oversaw the creation of MIT’s first five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s programs in engineering. As provost, he worked to increase the salaries for research and teaching assistants, and he tripled funding for student association activities.

Moses stepped down as provost in 1998 but remained a professor and continued to be active in MIT’s research and administrative programs.

In 2004 he founded the Stata Center for Computing, Information, and Intelligence Sciences. It houses the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, and the linguistics and philosophy department.

He also helped create MIT’s systems design and management graduate program, which prepares students for leadership positions at engineering companies.

He recently served as acting director of MIT’s engineering systems division. The group, which was disbanded in 2015, focused on developing and managing large, complex systems such as global manufacturing and supply chains, multimodal transportation systems, electrical power distribution networks, and health care systems.

Moses was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1986 for pioneering accomplishments in symbolic algebraic manipulations by computer, and for outstanding leadership in engineering education.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Columbia.

Hiroshi Kondoh

Former chief operating officer of Centellax

Fellow, 71; died 15 January

Kondoh served as COO at Centellax (now Microsemi), a semiconductor manufacturer in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

After earning a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1984 from Cornell, Kondoh joined HP as a project manager in Santa Rosa, Calif. He left in 1994 to join Hitachi’s Central Research Laboratories, in Tokyo, as a senior researcher. There he worked on automotive radar and millimeter-wave sensors.

In 2009 he joined Centellax as COO and led the marketing and manufacturing departments. When the company was acquired by Microsemi in 2014, he left and began working as a consultant.

Kondoh was a member of the IEEE Microwave Theory and Technology Society and advised Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

George J. Tahu Jr.

Sales engineer

Life member, 85; died 6 January

Tahu was a sales engineer for more than 40 years at HP and Agilent, an HP spinoff, in Cedar Creek, Texas.

He served in the U.S. Navy Air Systems Command Reserve Program for eight years before joining HP. He specialized in test and measurement systems before retiring in 2001.

Tahu enjoyed spending time with his children, serving as leader of his son’s Boy Scouts troop and filming his daughter’s ice skating competitions and dance performances. He was a longtime member of the Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Richardson, Texas.

He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.