Remembering the Career of Microelectronics Pioneer James D. Meindl

Photograph of James D. Meindl
Photo: Georgia Tech

THE INSTITUTE James D. Meindl, a treasured friend, colleague, and mentor, died on 7 June at his home in Greensboro, Ga., at the age of 87. Meindl was a giant in the world of semiconductors, a gentleman, and a leader of the highest magnitude.

For his contributions to microelectronics, the IEEE Life Fellow received the 2006 IEEE Medal of Honor.

Meindl was born in Pittsburgh and received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering in 1955, 1956, and 1958, respectively, at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now part of Carnegie Mellon.

After receiving his Ph.D., he joined the U.S. Army Signal Research and Development Laboratories, in Fort Monmouth, N.J. He worked with ICs—a technology then barely six months old—and served consecutively as section leader, branch chief, and founding director of the lab’s integrated electronics division. The division was responsible for research and development in microelectronics. While there, Meindl developed an IC that operated at a power level so low that it could be used inside a helmet as part of a radio receiver.

In 1967 he began working at Stanford, where he was the founding director of the Integrated Circuits Laboratory, director of the electronics laboratories, associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, and founding co-director of the Center for Integrated Systems.

At Stanford, Meindl developed low-power ICs and sensors for a portable reading aid for the blind, miniature wireless radio-telemetry systems for biomedical research, and noninvasive ultrasonic imaging and blood-flow measurement tools that paved the way for medical systems that are widely used today.

He left the university in 1986 and joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y., as senior vice president for academic affairs and as provost.

After seven years at RPI, in 1993 Meindl joined Georgia Tech as a professor of microsystems. He served as director of the college’s Microelectronics Research Center until he retired in 2013. He pursued work on finding a solution for interconnectivity problems that arise from trying to connect billions of transistors within a tiny chip.

He was the founding director of several research centers. Georgia Tech’s Nanotechnology Research Center, the largest dual-facility clean room in the southeastern United States, brings together physical sciences, engineering, and biological and biomedical nanotechnology research capabilities.

Another is the Interconnect Focus Center, in Atlanta, a collaboration between the Semiconductor Industry Association and the U.S. Department of Defense. It coordinates research on advanced semiconductor technology.

Meindl was a strong proponent of research with real-world impact—and that promoted both an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of social responsibility among his students.

Meindl and several of his former Ph.D. students at the 2006 Honors Ceremony. [clockwise from top left]: Ernie Wood, Rafael Reif, Levy Gerzberg, Fred Shapiro, Steve Combs, John Schott, Sharbel Noujaim, James Meindl, Freddy Meindl, Nicky Lu, and Jim Plummer
Photo: Levy Gerzberg

Meindl and several of his former Ph.D. students at the 2006 IEEE Honors Ceremony. [From left] bottom row: Sharbel Noujaim, James Meindl, Freddy Meindl, Nicky Lu, and Jim Plummer. Middle row: John Shott, Steve Combs, Fred Shapiro, and Levy Gerzberg. Top row: Ernie Wood and Rafael Reif.

He mentored 90 Ph.D. candidates during his time at Stanford, RPI, and Georgia Tech. They have had a profound impact on the semiconductor industry and academia. Among some of his mentees are Jim Plummer, former dean of Stanford’s engineering school; MIT president Rafael Reif; William R. Brody, former president of Johns Hopkins University; Krishna Saraswat and Richard Swanson, electrical engineering professors at Stanford; and Azad Naeemi, Jeff Davis, and Muhannad Bakir, electrical engineering professors at Georgia Tech.

Alumni of his research groups considered Meindl a trusted mentor they could turn to when trying to make career and life decisions. He was determined to pass on to his students his ability to see industry needs far into the future.

He can be said to be among the founding fathers of Silicon Valley. The list of companies founded by his students or those mentored by him is extensive. They include Cypress Semiconductor, Etron Technology, Lattice Semiconductor, Maxim Integrated Products, SanDisk, SunPower, and Zoran.

Meindl published more than 600 articles and four books, and he was granted 23 patents.

Throughout his career, he was a sought-after advisor and board member for Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, and other companies. His leadership and advisory roles in government and industry organizations included work with the Semiconductor Industry Association and the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.

Meindl was an active member of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Council, the predecessor of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society. From 1966 to 1971 he served as the founding editor of the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits. He was the 1972 and 1978 president of the society and chaired the 1966 and 1969 International Solid-State Circuits Conference, the world’s preeminent forum for ICs.

Meindl received many leadership and technical awards including the 2016 Sigma Xi Monie A. Ferst Award, the 2004 Semiconductor Research Aristotle Award, and the 2001 Georgia Tech Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award.

He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an eminent member of IEEE’s honor society, Eta Kappa Nu, and a life member of Sigma Xi.

Meindl had a lasting impact on his students, faculty at several universities, and colleagues in the United States and around the world.

The IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society intends to establish a fund in Meindl’s memory.

This article is based on a tribute published on the Georgia Tech website with additional contributions from students and colleagues in academia and industry.

Jackie Nemeth is a communications manager at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. Five people helped her write this tribute: Levy Gerzberg, Meindl’s former Ph.D. student and founder of Zoran; Muhannad Bakir, Meindl’s former Ph.D. student; Diana Palma, Meindl’s former assistant at Georgia Tech; Jim Plummer, Meindl’s former Ph.D. student; and Robert Swartz, Plummer’s Ph.D. student.

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