John Robinson Pierce, 92, Father of the Transistor, Dies (Malcolm Slaney )

Subject: John Robinson Pierce, 92, Father of the Transistor, Dies
From:    Malcolm Slaney  <malcolm(at)IEEE.ORG>
Date:    Fri, 5 Apr 2002 17:53:27 -0800

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 By WOLFGANG SAXON 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 space. 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, N.J.

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