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Founder of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Labs Dies at 88

IEEE also mourns the loss of a former society president

4 min read

Paul Penfield

Founder of MIT's Microsystems Technology Labs

Fellow, 88; died 22 June

Penfield's academic career at MIT spanned 45 years. He was instrumental in increasing the school's involvement in silicon integrated circuit design. In 1977 he founded the institute's Microsystems Technology Laboratories, which provided modern fabrication facilities to enable research and provide education in nano- and microtechnologies

After joining MIT as a professor in 1960, he moved up the ranks and served as associate head of the electrical engineering and computer science department from 1974 to 1978. He then was elevated to department head and worked in that position for 10 years. After stepping down, he went back to teaching electrical engineering until he retired in 2005.


As department head, Penfield invited Lynn Conway, who designed the very-large-scale integration chip, to come to MIT in 1978 as a visiting professor. She taught the first VLSI system design course at the school. Students were able to design their own integrated circuits, which were then fabricated by Hewlett-Packard.

In 1985 he became director of the Microsystems Research Program.

During his time at MIT, Penfield developed a course that made the second law of thermodynamics—which states that the more energy is transferred or transformed, the more of it is wasted—accessible to first-year students. He also established MIT's master's degree in engineering.

Outside the classroom, Penfield had a wide variety of research interests including solid-state microwave devices and circuits, thermodynamics, and electrodynamics of moving media.

Penfield received several recognitions including the 1999 IEEE Circuits and Systems (CAS) Society Golden Jubilee Medal, a 1985 IEEE CAS Darlington Award, and a 1984 IEEE Centennial Medal.

He earned his bachelor's degree in physics in 1955 from Amherst College, in Massachusetts, and a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1960 from MIT.

Ferdo Ivanek

Past president of the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society

Life Fellow, 98, died 2 October

Ivanek was the 1991 president of the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society. He was an active IEEE member who held several leadership positions over the years, including chair of the Santa Clara Valley (Calif.) Section.

His first job was designing microwave radio systems in Yugoslavia for a radio equipment design and manufacturing startup. He took a leave of absence from 1959 to 1962 to conduct research at Stanford's Microwave Integrated Circuits Laboratory.

In 1967 he left the startup and joined the Fairchild R&D Laboratory, in San Jose, Calif. There he worked on developing communications applications for solid-state microwave devices. He was promoted to director of product development and then to director of systems research.

He left the company in 1986 and founded Communications Research, a consulting service for manufacturers, in Palo Alto, Calif.

Ivanek received a 2000 IEEE Third Millennium Medal, which honors individuals who have significantly contributed to their IEEE society, region, or section.

He earned a bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Technical University of Vienna.

Ronald Norris Sampson

Former manager at Westinghouse

Life senior member, 90; died 8 September

Sampson worked for Westinghouse Electric for his entire career. He was the manager of the Chemical Sciences Division R&D center in Churchville, Pa., when he retired in 1991 after almost 40 years of service.

He authored and edited many technical manuals and was granted several U.S. patents.

He enjoyed fishing, studying birds, and collecting limericks, and he volunteered at St. Alban's Anglican Church in his hometown, Murrysville, Pa.

Sampson earned a bachelor's degree in electrical and chemical engineering in 1952 from Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon.

Wilford P. Hamm

Older man in a blue shirt and a tan hat.David E. Hamm

Past chair of the IEEE Richmond (Va.) Section

Life senior member, 98; died 6 September

Hamm was the 1983–1984 chair of the IEEE Richmond Section, in Virginia. He worked as an equipment engineer for more than 35 years for C&P Telephone in Alleghany County, Va.

Hamm enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. His operational specialty was radio communications. During World War II, he had several assignments in the United States but because he was qualified as a sharpshooter, he eventually was deployed to France and Germany. After the war ended, Hamm transferred to the Army garrison in Pusan, Korea, and served as a technician there until he was honorably discharged in 1946. He was decorated with several honors including the World War II Victory Medal.

He returned to Virginia, where he helped found the Chestnut Oaks Recreation Association in Richmond, in 1963. He was an active parishioner of Welborne United Methodist Church in Tuckahoe, Va., and served on several of its boards and committees. He was past president of the United Methodist Men fellowship group.

Since 1975, Hamm had been an amateur radio operator. His call sign was WA4TCS.

Leslie Axelrod

Electrical engineering professor

Life senior member, 92; died 11 February

Axelrod worked as an engineer for a number of companies in various industries. He also was an electrical engineering professor at Illinois Tech, in Chicago.

After earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, Axelrod joined the U.S. Navy and served on the destroyer escort ship USS Lewis during the Korean War.

For more than 50 years, he was an active member of B'nai Torah Synagogue in Highland Park, Ill.—now closed. He managed its library and served on its financial board. Axelrod was also a member of the executive board for the Highland Park Public Library and served as its treasurer.

He earned a second bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He earned master's degrees in EE and engineering management from Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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