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Jack St. Clair Kilby

I heard the news of Jack Kilby's passing on June 20 as I was preparing to write this issue's Editor's Page. As the coinventor of the integrated circuit, the tall Kansan—along with Robert Noyce, the other patriarch of the IC—should be honored among the greats, on the same historical echelon as Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers. Yet few outside the semiconductor and microelectronics realms know who he was or anything about his accomplishments, even though the spawn of Kilby's and Noyce's inventions permeate all facets of modern life. But according to those who did know him, that's just how he would have wanted it.

In an industry where some big shots' egos can suck the air out of a room, Kilby was a down-to-earth, mild-mannered guy. His friends and colleagues say he was the same patient, thoughtful soul whether he was chatting with young engineers or accepting the Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden. Not comfortable with the trappings of fame, the ever-humble Kilby had mixed feelings about Texas Instruments' near-canonization of him and even discouraged his hometown high school from renaming itself in his honor.

Kilby was an engineer's engineer, a point brought home by T. R. Reid in his touching appreciation in the June 22 Washington Post. "The real prize was watching his 'successful solution' to an engineering problem become a ubiquitous part of human life. In his soul, Kilby was an engineer, and proud of it. 'It's quite satisfying—hell, it's incredibly satisfying—to face some important problem and find a solution that works,' he said. 'Yeah, scientists get the theories. But engineers make them work. And the engineer has the added challenge of cost, because if your solution works but it costs too much, there will never be any application.'"

Here's to Jack Kilby, gentleman inventor and godfather of the microchip.

Tom Cheyney

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