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Charles Edwin Molnar
Our friend Charlie Molnar, a pioneer in cochlear modeling research,
has died. His obituraries focus on his leading role in computing
technologies, but most of us will remember him for his work in hearing.
Here's from the San Jose Mercury News:
Molnar, Charles Edwin - of Sunnyvale, died December 13, 1996 at home,
age 61. Beloved husband of Donna Addlcott Molnar. Loving father of
Steven and Christopher, Dear 'Opa' of Jennifer, Laura, and Grant. Son
of the late Louis Steven Molnar and Mildred Knelly Molnar. Survived by
many relatives and friends, who loved, admired, and were guided by
him. He was born in New Jersey, graduated from Rutgers University, and
received a Doctorate of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. He was a Professor at Washington University in St. Louis,
where he founded and directed the Institute for Bio-medical Computing.
At the time of his death, he was Director, in the Science Office at Sun
Microsystems Laboratories. His body was donated to the University of
California, San Francisco Medical Center.
A large obituary about Charles Molnar and his contributions
appeared in the New York Times of 16 December:
December 16, 1996
Charles Molnar, 61, Personal Computer Pioneer
By JOHN MARKOFF
Dr. Charles Edwin Molnar, an electrical engineer who was
co-designer of the machine that is widely considered the
world's first personal computer, died on Friday at his
home in Mountain View, Calif. He was 61.
The cause was complications from diabetes, his wife, Donna,
As a young researcher at the Lincoln Laboratory of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962, Molnar -- with
another engineer, Wesley A. Clark -- led a team of designers in
developing the Laboratory Instrument Computer, or LINC.
The machine, which was one of the few unclassified projects at
the laboratory in the early 60s, was intended for doctors and
medical researchers. Although it would be considered of
insignificant power compared to modern personal computers, it
was a self-contained machine that had a simple operating system
and a small display and stored its programs on a magnetic tape.
"At the time it was heresy because everyone else believed in
time-sharing computers," said Severo Ornstein, a computer
scientist who worked on the original LINC project.
The development team, which was financed by the National
Institutes of Health, placed 20 copies of an early prototype of
computer in biomedical research laboratories around the country.
Later, the machine was produced commercially by the Digital
From work with the first computers in the late 1950s, engineers
had begun to have a vision of their possibilities as they shrank
size and grew in speed.
Molnar received his doctorate in 1965 from MIT, where his
dissertation topic was the mechanics of the inner ear and how it
translates auditory signals into neural responses.
After leaving MIT, he established the Institute for Biomedical
Computing at Washington University in St. Louis, where he
worked from 1965 until 1995, when he became a senior research
fellow at Sun Microsystems in California.
Molnar earned a worldwide reputation for his work in self-timed
computer system theory, a design approach for ultrafast
computers. While the operations of commercial computers are
controlled by a single clock, most researchers in the field
that significant speed breakthroughs await the advent of systems
whose components can operate independently. At Sun, Molnar
was continuing his work in this area.
Molnar was known as an intensely curious researcher whose
talents and interests ranged from physiology and bioengineering
to electrical engineering and computers, music and furniture
building, and hiking and canoeing.
Ornstein said that during the development of the LINC, the group
had often turned to Molnar to help solve the most difficult
engineering and design problems.
In the 1960s, Molnar and Clark obtained a patent for sending
computer programs over cable television lines to communicate
data from central computers, which were expensive at the time, to
less expensive bedside terminals in intensive-care units.
The patent, which is now expired, turned out to be ahead of its
time. Some companies are now starting to employ the cable
technology, which allows users to send data much faster than by
the more common telephone lines.
In addition to his wife, Molnar is survived by two sons, Steven