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Carver A. Mead

Carver A. Mead

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

  • Born: May 1, 1934, Bakersfield, California

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0294
Interview Dates: September 30, 2004 and December 8, 2004 and August 15, 2005
Location: Woodside, California
Interviewers: David C. Brock and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 162
Sponsor: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Carver A. Mead begins with a review of his family history and his childhood near a power plant in Kernville, California. He discusses his early interest in electronics, which included getting his ham radio license and working for local radio stations during high school. Mead studied electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and was invited to teach during graduate school, where he took up solid state electronics. In 1959 Gordon Moore contacted Mead, beginning an informal technical exchange while Moore was at Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation. Mead conducted transistor research, and also pioneered automated design methodologies for VLSI devices. While consulting with Intel Corporation, Mead came to know its internal business culture and management style as well as the economics of the silicon manufacture. Mead discusses his long history of entrepreneurial activity, which continues to the present day.


1956 B.S.E.E., Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
1957 M.S.E.E., Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
1959 Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, California Institute of Technology

  Professional Experience

California Institute of Technology

1955 - 1958 Teaching Assistant, Department of Electrical Engineering

Pacific Semiconductors, Inc.

1956 - 1960 Consultant

California Institute of Technology

1958 - 1959 Lecturer, Department of Electrical Engineering

California Institute of Technology

1959 - 1962 Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

Fairchild Semiconductor

1960 - 1968 Consultant

California Institute of Technology

1962 - 1967 Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

California Institute of Technology

1967 - 1977 Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

Intel Corporation

1968 - Present Consultant

California Institute of Technology

1977 - 1980 Professor, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

California Institute of Technology

1980 - 1992 Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computing Science

Synaptics, Inc.

1986 - Present Director, Cofounder

California Institute of Technology

1992 - 1999 Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science

Foveon, Inc.

1997 - Present

Chairman, Co-Founder

California Institute of Technology

1999 - Present Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science Emeritus

Impinj, Inc.

2000 - Present

Director, Co-Founder


1981 Award for Achievement, Electronics Magazine
1984 Centennial Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
1984 Howard Pender Award
1985 John Price Wetherhill Medal, Franklin Institute
1985 Harry Goode Memorial Award, American Federation of Information Processing Societies
1987 Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Lund
1987 Walter B. Wriston Public Policy Award, Hudson Institute
1991 Honorary Doctorate, University of Southern California
1992 Award for Outstanding Research, International Neural Network Society
1994 Secretary of the Navy Captain Robert Dexter Conrad Award
1996 John Von Neumann Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
1996 Phil Kaufman Award, Electronic Design Automation Consortium
1997 Allen Newell Award, Association for Computing
1999 Lemelson-MIT Prize, Invention and Innovation
2002 Computer History Museum Fellow Award
2002 Dickson Prize in Science
2002 National Medal of Technology

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Family background. Childhood in Kernville, California. World War II. Significant Childhood Experiences. Interest in Electronics. Amateur Radio. High School. California Institute of Technology. Work Ethic. Teaching. Early Semiconductor Industry.

Early Silicon Valley 29

Graduate School. Family. Consulting. California Institute of Technology Faculty. Undergraduate Thesis. Employment Search. Teaching at California Institute of Technology. Graduate Research. Gordon Moore. Personal Relationship with Gordon Moore. Early Transistor Research.

Intel Corporation 67

Intel Corporation. Management at Intel. Role of Japanese in Semiconductor Industry. Gordon Moore. Moore's Law. Automation of VLSI Device Design. Silicon Valley Spinoffs. Pacific Semiconductor, Inc. Device Innovation at Intel. Early Intel Business Culture. Uncertainty in Semiconductor Industry. Relationship with Intel Corporation Management. Organization of Intel. Integrated Circuit. Fabrication Processes. Silicon Design.

Conclusion 127

Involvement with Start-Up Companies. Foveon, Inc. Impinj, Inc. Reflections. Youth. Immediate Family and Children. Nathan Mead. Residence in Woodside, California.

Notes 151

Index 153

  About the Interviewers

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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