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John Robinson Pierce, 92, Father of the Transistor, Dies

From today's NYT.....

John was a great friend and supporter of the Stanford Hearing
Seminar.  John is the only person I know who has unsuccessfully retired
three times: Bell Labs, Caltech (Chief Scientist at JPL, I believe), and
Stanford faculty.  I wish I was so unsuccessful.

Until last year John was a active participant in the Hearing Seminar.  His
last work was on pitch.  As his health failed, he sometimes fell asleep in
the lectures.  More often than not, he would wake up and ask THE most
brilliant question!

He was an amazing engineer, researcher, teacher and person!!  I will miss him.

- Malcolm

John Robinson Pierce, 92, Father of the Transistor, Dies

April 5, 2002


Dr. John Robinson Pierce, a visionary electrical engineer
and acoustics expert who headed the team that invented the
transistor and was a major force behind Echo I, the world's
first communications satellite, died on Tuesday in
Sunnyvale, Calif. He was 92.

Dr. Pierce considered the transistor, which revolutionized
everyday life, as his greatest achievement, and he even
suggested the name for it in 1949 while at Bell Telephone
Laboratories in New Jersey.

Several years later, as director of research in
communications principles at the lab, he shepherded Echo I,
a 100-foot inflatable sphere, toward its launching.

He was also a pioneer in digital music and author of the
book "The Science of Musical Sound" (1983, rev. ed. 1992),
and co-editor with Max V. Mathews of "Current Directions in
Computer Music Research" (1991), which remains in print.
And he was a successful author of technical science fiction
published in magazines under a pen name, J. J. Coupling.

The concept of a communications system in space was
broached earlier by the science fiction writer Arthur C.
Clarke. But it was Dr. Pierce who made it real, and he did
so in an astonishingly short period.

In 1954, three years before the Russians orbited the first
human-made satellite, Dr. Pierce started thinking about
such a platform as a relay device for communications. He
published his first concrete proposals the next year in the
journal Jet Propulsion.

Late in 1958, he learned that the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration was experimenting with large balloon
satellites for measuring air resistance. At Bell, Dr.
Pierce gave the project a different direction.

In early 1959, he and Dr. Rudolph Kompfner, director of
electronic research, drew up plans that were approved, and
the work got under way.

The balloon itself was produced by a company operated by an
enterprising American inventor, Gilmore T. Scheldahl, who
died on March 10 at 89. NASA sent the balloon aloft in
August 1960, the largest object up to then to go into

Radio waves bounced off its aluminum coating and were
reflected back to Earth. The sphere made possible the first
direct coast-to-coast television transmissions; it remained
in orbit for eight years.

John Pierce was born in Des Moines, grew up in California
and graduated from California Institute of Technology in
1933 with a degree in aeronautics and electronics. He
received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1936 and accepted a job
offer from Bell.

He worked on electronic tubes and microwave research, and
in World War II focused on the development of electronic
devices for the military. As he garnered patents by the
score, he invented a reflex klystron, a type of vacuum tube
used in radar.

He left Bell in 1971 as executive director of research in
communications, returned to Caltech as a professor of
engineering and, until 1982, was working at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory as well. He also taught music at
Stanford University, retiring in 1983.

Dr. Pierce is survived by his wife, Brenda Woodard Pierce;
and a son and daughter from a previous marriage, John J.,
of Bloomfield, N.J., and Elizabeth Anne Pierce of Summit,