The front desk clerk at the Sheraton in Sunnyvale, Calif., just pointed across the lobby at a house phone when IEEE Spectrum senior editor Tekla S. Perry [right] asked if she could call a guest in his room. But when that same unsmiling clerk heard she wanted to talk to James Meindl (this year's IEEE Medal of Honor winner), her face lit up like a Roman candle. "Dr. Meindl? You're meeting Dr. Meindl? I didn't know he was here. Just a minute, I'll ring him for you."

Meindl has that effect on people. All kinds of people: Silicon Valley titans, engineering graduate students, bellmen, taxi drivers, inventors, and even jaded journalists. As Perry was to learn, Meindl leaves a trail of smiles everywhere he goes. He's just that nice.

Perry really needed a smile on that gray day in February. She was making her first trip on assignment after taking time off to recover from a ruptured disc; still wearing a neck brace, she wasn't sure she'd be able to sit comfortably for more than an hour. That's why she was meeting Meindl in a Silicon Valley hotel instead of on his home turf at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta. Meindl was in California, not far from where Perry lives, attending a meeting at SanDisk Corp., where he's on the board. Also on his agenda was the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco--he hasn't missed one in almost half a century.

Greeting Perry in the lobby, he told her he'd read so many of her articles he felt he knew her. It's about the sweetest music a journalist ever hears, and it wasn't just flattery, Perry swears. During 4 hours of interviews in and around the hotel, a favorite of Meindl's, he paused from time to time to chat with hotel and restaurant workers, often asking them questions about their lives that suggested a familiarity that went well beyond small talk.

And when Perry left that day, she realized that Meindl had given her something more than a good story. He had let her borrow his rose-colored glasses, and for the next few days, everything she looked at seemed just a bit brighter.

The Conversation (0)

The Great Ventilator Rush

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, engineers launched extraordinary crash programs that produced scores of ventilator designs. What will happen to them now?

14 min read
Not Rocket Science: Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory built a working ventilator prototype in a 37-day period spanning the months of March and April 2020.
Photo: JPL-Caltech/NASA

The projections were horrifying. Experts were forecasting upwards of 100 million people in the United States infected with the novel coronavirus, with 2 percent needing intensive care, and half of those requiring the use of medical ventilators.

In early March, it seemed as if the United States might need a million ventilators to cope with COVID-19—six times as many as hospitals had at the time. The federal government launched a crash purchasing program for 200,000 of the complex devices, but they would take months to arrive and cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less