Carver Mead: “It's All About Thinking,” A Personal Account Leading up to the First Microwave Transistor

This article is the second in a continuing series of biographical pieces on individuals who have made significant contributions to microwave science, technology and applications over the course of their careers. It is intended to bring to the reader, especially those new to the field, a portrait of an individual who serves as a role model for the community and a detailed description of their accomplishments. At the same time, it tries to bridge with commonality, the experiences of the subject with those of the scientists, engineers and technologists who are following in their footsteps or hope to establish a similar record of success.

The articles are composed only after an extensive face-to-face interview with the subject and are helped immensely by additional input and editing by the subjects themselves. The focus of this article is Caltech Professor Carver A. Mead, perhaps best known for his ground breaking work on VLSI design techniques, but also for the first demonstration of the GaAs MESFET and the originator of Moore's Law. However, Professor Mead has contributed so much more, and to so many disciplines other than electrical engineering.

From his own description of his interests and focus, he is a chameleon of knowledge, scrambling into, blending with, and then distinguishing himself in a new field every thirteen years or so, over a career spanning seven decades and still going. At age 86, his latest paper, on an intuitive approach to electromagnetically coupled single-electron quantum systems, was just published this summer. Although we cannot do justice to all his contributions, we hope the reader will see something of the polymath in Professor Mead as we focus just on his earliest work, where he single handedly conceived, constructed, and tested the world's first Schottky barrier gate transistor in his modest laboratory at Caltech.

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