RLE - Circuits and Systems Group - History

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"Although there was a great deal of activity in RLE in the early 1960s in characterizing semiconductor devices and circuits, MIT did not participate strongly in the early development of integrated circuits as opposed to the study of discrete devices. In 1978, however, Professors Jonathan Allen and Paul Penfield recognized that important new design techniques, focused on MOS (Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor) circuits, had opened up the possibility of designing large circuits at a system level with impressive performance. Building on a semester visit by Ms. Lynn Conway of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, a robust new activity in integrated-circuit design built up, spanning interests all the way from the device level to large complex computing systems. The emphasis in RLE has been on the building of a number of software design tools, many of which are used extensively in industry, and on the development of new circuit-analysis techniques and high-performance architectures for digital signal processing." -- A Century of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, 1882-1982 by Karl L. Wildes and Nilo A. Lindgren


Professors Henry J. Zimmermann, Samuel J. Mason, and Richard B. Adler were part of a group in RLE that investigated the fundamental principles of transistor circuit design and their practical application in communication engineering. The study of noise in semiconductors was also related to this research. Professor Zimmermann is shown here in a 1975 photo. (Photo by Ivan Massar/Black Star)

1950s and 1960s

Professor Richard D. Adler was a member of RLE since its inception in 1946. From 1951 to 1953, he was the leader of Lincoln Laboratory's first solid-state and transistor group. Along with Professors Samuel J. Mason, Carl R. Hurtig, and Walter E. Morrow, Jr., he pioneered the development of a new nonlinear circuit model for point-contact transistors. From 1960 to 1968, he served as technical director of the Semiconductor Electronics Education Committee (SEEC), an international university- and industry-sponsored educational development effort. The SEEC successfully introduced solid-state electronics into university curricula by producing seven textbooks, pedagogical lab experiments, and four educational films on the subject. Other members of the SEEC included Professor Campbell L. Searle, Paul E. Gray, Arthur C. Smith, and Richard D. Thornton. Professor Adler is shown lecturing in a 1963 photo (courtesy MIT Museum) and Professor Thornton examines a component in a 1975 photo (Ivan Massar/Black Star).


MIT doctoral student Ivan E. Sutherland (PhD'63) developed Sketchpad, an interactive computer graphics program that was implemented on Lincoln Laboratory's TX-2 computer. By the mid-'60s, major American corporations were conducting research on interactive computer graphics. (Photo courtesy Lincoln Laboratory)

Winter 1978

In January 1978, about 25 MIT faculty members and scientists participated in an intensive VLSI design workshop. The challenge was for the workshop participants to become the foundation of MIT's new thrust into integrated circuit design. Just as the avalanche of new information concluded, the workshop was commemorated by New England's blizzard of 1978, which closed MIT for a week and gave the attendees some time to reflect and complete their take-home final exam. (Photo by Stephen L. Finberg '77)

Fall 1978

Visiting Associate Professor Lynn A. Conway introduced MIT students to their first VLSI design course in the fall of 1978. As a researcher from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, she had collaborated with Professor Carver Mead from the California Institute of Technology on a landmark system-oriented approach to VLSI design. Thirty students enrolled in the new course, which was based on this approach. Professor Conway is now the Assistant Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. (Photo courtesy Lynn A. Conway)

Fall 1978

The 1978 MIT Multiproject Chip was the most ambitious multiproject chip to date. Designs were produced by students from Professor Lynn Conway's VLSI design course. This endeavor guided the more extensive multi-university multiproject chip set (MCP79), which involved 124 designers from eight universities. (Photo courtesy Paul L. Penfield, Jr.)


Professor Jonathan Allen and graduate student Larry D. Seiler inspect the design of a system for high-speed design rule checking that uses four custom integrated circuits in a novel architecture. The design rule checker was used in Professor Allen's VLSI design course, which continued the curriculum brought to MIT by Professor Lynn Conway. (Photo by John F. Cook)


The features of a CMOS chip developed at AT&T Bell Laboratories are examined by (from left): Dr. Michael K. Maul of Bell Labs, Dr. J. Peter Bartl of MIT's Industrial Liaison Program, Dr. W. Dexter Johnston and Mr. Victor A. Vyssotsky of Bell Labs, and Professor Paul L. Penfield, Jr., Director of MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratory. The same fabrication process used to manufacture this chip would later be used to produce a chip designed by Professor Lance A. Glasser of RLE. (Photo courtesy MIT Museum)


As a principal investigator in RLE's Circuit and Systems Group, Professor Lance A. Glasser studied integrated circuit design and its application in digital VLSI systems, such as massively parallel multiprocessors. His important contributions include research in waveform bounding, a novel ultraviolet write-enable programmable read-only memory (PROM) circuit, and a book which he coauthored, The Design and Analysis of VLSI Circuits. He is now with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by John F. Cook)