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Remembering Those Lost in 2020

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These obituaries help us remember our losses from the tech community in 2020 – from visionaries and innovators to designers and implementers.

This year will be noteworthy for the huge number of deaths caused by the COVID-19 disease (1.8M and rapidly climbing as of the end of December 2020). But it will also be remembered for the technological pioneers and leaders who passed away from natural diseases – or at least non-COVID-19 ones. This story pays tribute to those who died in the technical community including inventors, visionaries, engineers, designers, and implementors. These obituaries are arranged by the date of death. Those that were covered in 2020 DN stories will contain links to those pieces.

As part of the engineering community at large, we at DN mourn the passing of all of those who helped shape our technical world.

Robert G. Mazur – Leader in semiconductor test and measurement

  • Dec 10, 2020 (Age: 86)
  • Robert G. Mazur was the founder and CEO of Solid-State Measurements (SSM), Inc. He pioneered several important techniques for controlling the electrical properties of semiconductor materials in microchips used in manufacturing computers, cell phones, and similar devices. In 1970, he founded Solid State Measurements, a Pittsburgh-based high-tech company that designed and manufactured semiconductor test equipment. Bob was given the SEMI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
  • Personal Note: During my semiconductor career, I once spent a week at the SSM plant learning the measurement technology behind the manufacturing of epitaxial layers onto silicon wafers.

Charles Elwood Yeager – Test pilot who broke the sound barrier

Norman Abramson - Pioneer behind today’s wireless networks

  • Dec 1, 2020 (Age: 88)
  • Abramson and his team were responsible for creating ALOHAnet, an early wireless network whose innovative techniques led to modern satellite, phone, and computer networks. The ALOHAnet was created by Abramson and his collaborator Franklin Kuo, while teaching at the University of Hawaii (UH). The ALOHAnet was like the wired ARPAnet, which served as the basis for the internet. In contrast, the ALOHAnet was designed as a system to connect UH to other colleges and universities to share research. Some of the protocols and technologies that originated in the ALOHAnet project would go on to be used in the development of Wi-Fi and Ethernet.

Masatoshi Koshiba – Nobel winner who tracked neutrinos

  • Nov 12, 2020 (Age: 94)
  • Masatoshi Koshiba was a Japanese physicist and one of the founders of neutrino astronomy. His work with the neutrino detectors Kamiokande and Super-Kamiokande was instrumental in detecting solar neutrinos, providing experimental evidence for the solar neutrino problem. In 2002, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics (jointly with Raymond Davis Jr.) "for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos".

Arthur Ashkin – Inventor of optical tweezer “tractor beam”

  • Sep 21, 2020 (Age: 98)
  • Arthur Ashkin, Ph.D., won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2018 for pioneering “optical tweezers” that use laser light to capture and manipulate microscopic particles. While it isn’t quite like the tractor beams used in sci-fi movies, his optical tweezers used the pressure of light in a laser beam to seize and manipulate microscopic objects, from atoms to living cells.

Frances E. Allen – Compiler optimizer enabled software apps

  • Aug 4, 2020 (Age: 88)
  • Compiler Pioneer Leaves Higher Legacy - Frances E. Allen’s work in compiler optimization paved the way for higher-level languages required for modern computer programming.

William Kirk English – Co-developer of the first computer mouse

  • Jul 26, 2020 (Age: 91
  • William Kirk English contributed to the development of the computer mouse while working for Douglas Engelbart at SRI International's Augmentation Research Center. It was English’s design and construction that made Engelbart’s concept into a reality by enabling computer users to control their machines without keyboards or punch cards for the first time. He would later work for Xerox PARC and Sun Microsystems.

Pasquale (Pat) Octavious Pistilli - Formalized EDA chip design industry and founded DAC

Grant Masaru Imahara – Engineer turned “Mythbuster’s” host and robot builder

Freeman John Dyson – Visionary ideas spanned quantum theory to biotechnology

Katherine Johnson – African American NASA mathematician behind “Hidden Figures”

  • Feb 24, 2020 (Age: 101)
  • Katherine Johnson Was the Hidden Figure That Put Man on the Moon - As a mathematician who broke barriers at NASA, her calculations of the orbital mechanics for Project Mercury were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. The space agency noted her "historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist". Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Lawrence Gordon Tesler – Work included SmallTalk to Copy/Paste functionality

Louis Nirenberg - Most outstanding mathematician of the 20th century

  • 26 January 2020 (94)
  • One of the great mathematicians who figured out the equations necessary in describing the vibrating of strings, the flow of heat, and the movement of water. He transformed the field of partial differential equations with his proof of the strong maximum principle for second-order parabolic partial differential equations.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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