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Thomas A. Lipo, Motor-Drive Pioneer, Dies at 82

IEEE also mourns the loss of Northrop Grumman executive Robert Nafis and others

6 min read

A small candle burns, with many more blurry in the background.
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Thomas A. Lipo

Solid-state AC motor-drive pioneer

Life Fellow, 82; died 8 May

Lipo was an innovator in the field of solid-state AC motor drives.

He joined the Power Electronics Laboratory at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., where he participated in some of the earliest work on the drives.

He left GE in 1979 to become an electrical engineering professor at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. In 1981 he joined the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a professor of power electronics and electric machines. While there, Lipo helped found the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium research group, and he served as its codirector for 28 years. He recently had been named professor emeritus at the university.

Lipo was an ambassador for the university through the Fulbright program, which selects students, teachers, and professionals to study, teach, or conduct research abroad. The program allowed him to teach at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, in 2008. Lipo also taught engineering at Cambridge; Hanyang University, in Seoul; and at universities in Australia, China, and England. During the last five years of his life, he was a research professor at Florida State University, in Tallahassee.

Lipo received his master’s degree in EE from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, in 1964 and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin four years later.

Jorn Haahr

Electrical power engineer

Life member, 83; died 5 December

Haahr was born in Skive, Denmark, and completed his mandatory military service in the Danish Army before enrolling in the Technical University of Denmark, in Kongens Lyngby.

After graduating with a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1962, he immigrated to Boston and began a long career in engineering. He worked at the New England Electric System in Boston, then relocated to New York to join American Electric Power, where he developed and instituted the company’s 765-kV AC transmission system.

When AEP moved its operations to Ohio, Haahr joined Systems Control, an engineering company that works with electric utilities. In 1995 he was appointed to the Northeast Power Coordinating Council in New York. He retired in 2000.

Haahr enjoyed doing home repairs. He was a New York Mets fan and liked going to the theater, both on and off Broadway, and to the New York City Ballet.

Jim Boone

Radio and satellite engineer

Life Fellow, 87; died 12 May

James V. Boone developed an interest in electronics through his family’s business, Boone Radio Service, in Little Rock, Ark., according to his biography on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki.

He wanted to be a pilot as well as an engineer, so he joined the U.S. Air Force, then began working in Baltimore in 1955 as an engineer at Glenn L. Martin, now part of Lockheed Martin.

For four months, Boone did detail design and drafting, analyzed electrical-load and firing-circuit transients, and wrote specifications for the Air Force’s Bullpup air-to-ground missile. He then transferred to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and worked as an assistant project engineer on the flight-test program for bomb-navigation systems, rapid-scan radar, and inertial-guidance systems for strategic bombers.

After two years, Boone joined the Air Research and Development Command as a captain at the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio. The organization was responsible for airborne electronics equipment. He also went back to school and received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, which is located on the base.

After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit in 1957, Boone spent three years helping to improve the reception of U.S. telemetry intelligence on Soviet surface-to-air, antiballistic, and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. He was promoted to captain and branch chief of the Fort Meade Army base in Maryland.

Boone eventually became chief of the Advanced Techniques Branch’s radio equipment development division, part of in the U.S. National Security Agency’s research and development organization. There he led the design, development, and implementation of low-noise microwave receivers using parametric amplifiers and masers to monitor aspects of the Soviet space program.

In 1963 Boone went to Germany for two years to help establish satellite tracking, radar, and wireless data collection capabilities at the Bad Aibling satellite-tracking station in Bavaria.

Three years after he returned to the United States, Boone was appointed deputy director for research and development at the NSA. He was responsible for research and engineering at the agency’s signals-intelligence and communications-security missions. He oversaw the launch and operation of the first three SIGINT satellites of Program 366, which allowed the U.S. military to intercept radio transmissions from Earth.

Boone left the military in 1981 and joined TRW Space Park, in Redondo Beach, Calif., now part of Northrop Grumman. He started as an apprentice to the manager of the company’s military electronics division. He eventually became its manager.

Boone received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1955 from Tulane University, in New Orleans.

Earl McCune

Entrepreneur and engineering professor

IEEE Fellow, 63; died 27 May

McCune founded three startups in Silicon Valley that developed radio-frequency and wireless technology. At the time of his death, he was an engineering professor at the Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands.

He said he knew he wanted to become an engineer at age 12 after his father explained the network theory of electrical circuits to him, according to an obituary published on the IEEE Future Network’s website. It said McCune had a passion for sustainable and energy-efficient RF communications. He was a hardware co-chair for the IEEE Future Network’s International Network Generations Roadmap.

Throughout his 45-year career, he worked on technology development in RF and wireless design.

McCune founded his first company, Digital RF Solutions, in 1986. It developed a number-controlled modulated oscillator, which was superior to competitors’ products in agility, accuracy, stability, and reliability, according to an entry on logic device manufacturer Lattice Semiconductor’s website. Digital RF Solutions merged with Proxim in 1991. McCune founded his second company, Tropian, in 1996. It developed multimode RF integrated circuits and solutions for wireless devices and was purchased by Panasonic in 2006. In 2013 he helped found Eridan, a radio software developer; he was CTO of the company until his death.

McCune also worked for Cushman Electronics, Hewlett-Packard, NASA, and Watkins-Johnson.

He authored two books and was granted more than 90 patents.

McCune was an active IEEE volunteer and served on conference committees for the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society and the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society. He was a member of the IEEE Green-ICT Initiative steering committee, and he served as co-chair of several IEEE Standards Association working groups.

McCune received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1978 from the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree in EE in 1979 from Stanford.

Alfred J. Cann

Radar engineer

Life senior member, 93; died 5 June

Born in the Netherlands, Cann moved to the United States in 1940 with his family.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from MIT in 1949 and 1953, respectively.

He left the school to serve in the U.S. Navy as a radio technician.

After graduating, Cann worked at Sanders Associates, a defense contractor in Nashua, N.H., now part of BAE Systems. There he worked on radar, radar jammers, missile guidance, and related technologies until he retired in 1989.

Cann was granted more than 100 patents. Several of his articles were published in technical journals.

During retirement, Cann enjoyed contra dancing and playing the mandolin. He volunteered at the Mountain View nursing home in Ossipee, N.H., and the Heritage Park railroad museum, in Union, N.H.

Robert Allen Nafis

President of Northrop Grumman’s electronics division

Life member, 92; died 12 August

Nafis joined Northrop Grumman in 1949 as a systems engineer in Baltimore and spent his entire career there. After he retired, Nafis continued to be a consultant for the company.

In 1957 he was assigned the responsibility for the design and development of an inertial navigation system and radar inputs for the U.S. Navy A6 aircraft. The equipment allowed pilots to navigate the plane as well as launch missiles at night.

Seven years later, Nafis decided to return to school to earn a master’s degree, which he did in 1966 from the MIT Sloan industrial master’s program. He had received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1949 from Cornell.

After returning to Northrop, Nafis was appointed director of its antisubmarine warfare programs.

Three years later, he was promoted to program manager for the F-14 Tomcat Navy fighter, a supersonic aircraft. Nafis helped found the company’s data systems division in 1972 and eventually served as its president.

Ten years later, he was named vice president of corporate development, and in 1984 he was appointed president of the company’s electronics division.

After Nafis retired in 1990, he was a management consultant for the company until 1993. In 1999 he joined the board of startup Princeton Optronics, in Mercerville, N.J.—which was acquired by AMS. Nafis also served on the advisory committee of Cornell’s engineering school.

Borys Paton

Chairman of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences

Honorary member, 101; died 19 August

Paton was the first engineer to start intensive research on the use of welding and related fields in space, according to his biography from the National Library of Ukraine.

In 1941 he joined the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 in what was the city of Gorky, Russia, now known as Nizhny Novgorod. There, Paton designed electric circuits; through his work he helped increase Soviet tank production, according to a 2018 interview with Times Higher Educationmagazine.

Paton graduated in 1941 from Ukraine’s Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and earned a Ph.D. in technical sciences in 1952. A year later, he became head of the Paton Institute of Electric Welding, a school founded by his father.

In 1958 Paton joined the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Four years later, he was appointed chair of the academy, and he served in that position until March 2020.

Paton and a team of engineers developed electroslag welding, a process used to fuse carbon-steel plates. He also led research on how certain welding heat sources could improve the quality of smelted metal.

In 1962 Paton became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet. He advised Soviet authorities in the 1970s and 1980s against building the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to the book Controlling Technology: Ethics and the Responsible Engineer by IEEE Life Fellow Stephen H. Unger. Paton left his position in 1989.

Paton in 1998 became the first person awarded the title Hero of Ukraine, by then-President Leonid Kuchma, for his research in metallurgy of electric welding.

In 2008 then-President Viktor Yushchenko appointed Paton as a member of the country’s National Security and Defense Council.

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