James D. Meindl, our treasured friend, colleague and mentor passed away peacefully on June 7, 2020 at his home in Greensboro, Georgia after a long illness. He was 87 years old. Meindl was a giant in the world of semiconductors, a gentleman, and a leader of the highest magnitude.
Meindl was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees in 1958, 1956, and 1955, respectively, in electrical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). He was an outstanding leader in four distinct venues for 50-plus years.
From 1959-67, at the U.S. Army Electronics Laboratories (USAEL), Meindl worked with integrated circuits (ICs) – a field then barely six months old – and served consecutively as section leader, branch chief, and founding director of the Integrated Electronics Division consisted of 80 people, with responsibility for all USAEL R&D efforts in microelectronics. Meindl worked with early industry pioneers, who taught him about ICs, and he then began his own research, trying to figure out how to make an IC operate at a power level so low that it could be used inside a helmet as part of a radio receiver.
From 1967-1986, at Stanford University, Meindl served as founding director of the Integrated Circuits Laboratory, director of the Stanford Electronics Laboratories, associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, and founding co-director of the Center for Integrated Systems, which was a model for university and industry cooperative research in microelectronics.
While at Stanford, Meindl developed low-power integrated circuits and sensors for a portable reading aid for the blind, miniature wireless radio telemetry systems for biomedical research, and non-invasive ultrasonic imaging and blood-flow measurement systems that led directly to the medical systems in wide use today.
From 1986-1993, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), he served as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
From 1993-2013, at Georgia Tech, Meindl joined the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering as the Joseph M. Pettit Chair Professor in Microsystems and served as the director of the Microelectronics Research Center (MiRC). He retired in 2013.
At Georgia Tech, Meindl was the MiRC director for 20 years, where he pursued work on different solutions for solving interconnectivity problems that arise from trying to interconnect billions of transistors within a tiny chip. Meindl was also the founding director of the SIA/DOD Interconnect Focus Center, leading a national team of more than 60 faculty members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, RPI, Cornell University, SUNY-Albany, and Georgia Tech. In 2006, he became founding director of the Nanotechnology Research Center, the largest dual facility cleanroom in the southeastern United States, bringing together physical sciences and engineering and biological and biomedical nanotechnology research capabilities. His record of leadership in microelectronics and nanotechnology is unmatched.
Meindl published over 600 articles and four books, and he was issued 23 patents. From 1966-1971, he served as the founding editor of the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits. He served in a leadership role on the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Council, the predecessor of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society, acting as President of the Council in 1972 and 1978. He also chaired the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (the world’s pre-eminent forum for integrated circuits) in 1966 and 1969. Meindl’s 90 Ph.D. graduates from Stanford, RPI, and Georgia Tech have had a profound impact on the semiconductor industry and on academia in many roles, including as corporate CEOs, university presidents, and deans. Among some of those Ph.D. graduates are past and current Stanford University faculty members, Jim Plummer (former dean of engineering), Krishna Saraswat, and Richard Swanson, M.I.T. President and faculty member Rafael Reif, Johns Hopkins former President William Brody and current Georgia Tech ECE faculty members Muhannad Bakir, Jeff Davis and Azad Naeemi. Even after graduation, alumni of his research groups considered Meindl as a trusted mentor they turned to when trying to make career and life decisions. He was also determined to pass on to his students his ability to see industry needs far into the future.
Meindl was a strong proponent of research with real world impact and promoted both an entrepreneurial spirit and sense of social responsibility among his students. He can rightly be said to be among the founding fathers of “Silicon Valley”, and the list of companies created by his students or those mentored by him is extensive. Among some of those companies are Cypress Semiconductor, Etron Technology, Lattice Semiconductor, Maxim Integrated Products, SanDisk, SunPower, Zoran and others.
Throughout his career, Meindl was a sought-after advisor or board member of several companies. Some of those companies include Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, SanDisk, US Venture Partners, Xerox, Zoran, and others. His extensive leadership and advisory roles in government and industry organizations include the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SEMATECH), International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), Interconnect Focus Center (IFC), NSF’s National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), and others.
Meindl’s leadership and technical awards are many, but a short list includes the 2016 Sigma Xi Monie Ferst Award, the 2006 IEEE Medal of Honor, 2004 SRC Aristotle Award, 2001 Georgia Tech Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award, 2000 IEEE Third Millennium Medal, 1999 SIA University Research Award, 1991 ASEE Benjamin Garver Lamme Medal, and 1990 IEEE Education Medal. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Life Fellow of IEEE, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Eminent Member of Eta Kappa Nu, and a Life Member of Sigma Xi.
Meindl has made a significant and lasting impact on his students, faculty in several universities and many colleagues in the U.S. and around the world. We have been truly honored to have had Jim Meindl as our colleague, mentor, and friend.
This article is based on an original version written by Jackie Nemeth at the Georgia Institute of Technology with additional contributions from students and colleagues in academia and industry.
The IEEE Solid State Circuit Society intends to establish a Fund in Professor James D. Meindl’s Memory. Further communication regarding the Fund will be posted in the future.