J. B. Gunn

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J. B. Gunn
Gunn's Group c.JPG
Gunn (middle) with friends at a party, 1969.
Born(1928-05-13)13 May 1928
Died2 December 2008(2008-12-02) (aged 80)
United States
Nationality British
Citizenship British
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Known for Gunn effect
Scientific career
Fields Semiconductor Physics
Meacham, Gunn, Hughes, Wood family picture in 1935. Back Row: Charles S. Meacham (chemist, brewer, painter), Florence Meacham (painter) - -Second Row: Battiscombe Gunn, son in law (Egyptologist), Wendy Wood, daughter (Scottish nationalist), Meena Gunn, daughter (Freudian psychoanalyst) - Third Row: Mary Barnish, granddaughter, with Meena's dog, Spike Hughes, grandson (Musician, critic), Bobbie Hughes granddaughter-in-law - Fourth (front) Row: Ian Gunn, grandson (Physicist), Angela Hughes, great-granddaughter. Meacham 50th Anniversary BW.jpg
Meacham, Gunn, Hughes, Wood family picture in 1935. Back Row: Charles S. Meacham (chemist, brewer, painter), Florence Meacham (painter) - -Second Row: Battiscombe Gunn, son in law (Egyptologist), Wendy Wood, daughter (Scottish nationalist), Meena Gunn, daughter (Freudian psychoanalyst) - Third Row: Mary Barnish, granddaughter, with Meena's dog, Spike Hughes, grandson (Musician, critic), Bobbie Hughes granddaughter-in-law - Fourth (front) Row: Ian Gunn, grandson (Physicist), Angela Hughes, great-granddaughter.
Ian Gunn with his dog Tanya. Except for his time at UBC, where they were banned from faculty housing, he always had at least one dog, usually a Samoyed. Ian-Gunn-with-dog.jpg
Ian Gunn with his dog Tanya. Except for his time at UBC, where they were banned from faculty housing, he always had at least one dog, usually a Samoyed.

John Battiscombe "J. B." Gunn (13 May 1928 – 2 December 2008), known as Ian or Iain, was a British physicist, who spent most of his career in the United States. He discovered the Gunn Effect, which led to the invention of the Gunn diode, the first inexpensive source of microwave power that did not require vacuum tubes. [1] He was born John Battiscombe Gunn, but only used that name in legal documents. [2]

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Gunn diode diode

A Gunn diode, also known as a transferred electron device (TED), is a form of diode, a two-terminal passive semiconductor electronic component, with negative resistance, used in high-frequency electronics. It is based on the "Gunn effect" discovered in 1962 by physicist J. B. Gunn. Its largest use is in electronic oscillators to generate microwaves, in applications such as radar speed guns, microwave relay data link transmitters, and automatic door openers.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.


Early life

J. B. Gunn was born in 1928 in Cairo, Egypt, to Battiscombe "Jack" Gunn, a leading Egyptologist, and Lillian Florence (Meena) Meacham Hughes Gunn, who studied psychoanalytic technique with Sigmund Freud. [3] In 1931 the family moved to Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, while Jack was Curator of the Egyptian Section of the museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As a young boy he already showed an interest in electronics. As his older half brother Pat (Spike) Hughes, wrote [4] of a visit to Glen Riddle in 1933: "...at 4 years and a few months, Iain was already passionately interested in seeing how things worked, and showed a typical lack of concern for what came out of a loudspeaker, so long as he could make out why it came out at all. Thus at Iain's bedtime every night the Glen Riddle radio set had to be collected up and put together again – mainly for my benefit, for I suddenly felt myself cut off from my New York roots unless I could hear my favourite radio stations." The house at Glen Riddle was later owned by Ken Iverson, an IBM colleague and one of the inventors of APL.

Cairo Capital city in Egypt

Cairo is the capital of Egypt. The city's metropolitan area is one of the largest in Africa, the largest in the Middle East, and the 15th-largest in the world, and is associated with ancient Egypt, as the famous Giza pyramid complex and the ancient city of Memphis are located in its geographical area. Located near the Nile Delta, modern Cairo was founded in 969 AD by the Fatimid dynasty, but the land composing the present-day city was the site of ancient national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo. Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life, and is titled "the city of a thousand minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture. Cairo is considered a World City with a "Beta +" classification according to GaWC.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Battiscombe Gunn English egyptologist and philologist

Battiscombe George "Jack" Gunn, was an English Egyptologist and philologist. He published his first translation from Egyptian in 1906. He translated inscriptions for many important excavations and sites, including Fayum, Saqqara, Amarna, Giza and Luxor. He was curator at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and at the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1934 he was appointed Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, a chair he held until his death in 1950.

The Gunn family returned to England in 1934 when Jack was appointed Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford. It was at this point that the younger Gunn rejected the name "John". From then on, he was known personally as "Ian" or "Iain" (the Scottish form of "John"), given to him by his aunt, the Scottish nationalist Wendy Wood. He was known professionally as "J.B. Gunn". Ian was educated in England, with the exception of two years spent at Solebury School, Pennsylvania as a wartime evacuee. He was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1945 to 1948. Official records show that Gunn studied Natural Sciences prelim Class II in 1946, Natural Sciences tripos Class III in 1947, Mechanical Science Class II in 1948 (in the terminology Cambridge used for its curricula) and graduated with a BA degree in 1948, but did not take an MA degree. [5] [note 1] He described it himself as "I took two years of the natural sciences - physics, chemistry, mathematics and so on. In the last year I was able to switch to electronic engineering, which was something that was just started at Cambridge at that time." [6]

University of Oxford University in Oxford, United Kingdom

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Ian or Iain is a name of Scottish Gaelic origin, ultimately derived from Hebrew Yohanan and corresponding to English John. The spelling Ian is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic forename Iain. It is a very popular name in much of the English-speaking world and especially in Scotland, where it originated.

Wendy Wood (artist) Scottish political activist

Wendy Wood, born Gwendoline Emily Meacham, was a campaigner for Scottish independence and founder of the Scottish Patriots. An eccentric and colourful figure, she was also a gifted artist, sculptor and writer, and her antics often created controversy.

His half-brother was the musician Pat (Spike) Hughes, who was 20 years older. Their eccentric family is described in Pat's two volumes of autobiography, Opening Bars [7] and Second Movement. [4] His great grandfather was the sculptor Samuel Peploe Wood

Spike Hughes Composer, Author, Music Critic

Patrick Cairns "Spike" Hughes was a British jazz musician, composer and music journalist. He was the son of Irish composer, writer and song collector Herbert Hughes and great grandson of the sculptor Samuel Peploe Wood. Hughes was a multi-dimensional musician, playing the double bass, composing operatic scores, arranging jazz recordings and writing books on topics ranging from gardening to Toscanini's music.

Samuel Peploe Wood English sculptor and painter

Samuel Peploe Wood (1827–1873) was an English sculptor and painter. His sculpture can be seen on many churches and public buildings in England, and there are a number of his sketches and watercolours at Staffordshire County Museum.

Family life

While at Cambridge, Gunn spent a "work-study" term at the Royal Radar Establishment (RRE) in Malvern, Worcestershire, where he met Freda Pilcher (1924–1975), an Infant School teacher who was working in the RRE library. They married in London in 1950, and had three daughters, Janet, Donna, and Gillian. After Freda's death from lung cancer, he did not remarry.

The Royal Radar Establishment was a research center in Malvern, Worcestershire in the United Kingdom. It was formed in 1953 as the Radar Research Establishment by the merger of the Air Ministry's Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) and the British Army's Radar Research and Development Establishment (RRDE). It was given its new name after a visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. Both names were abbreviated to RRE. In 1976 the Signals Research and Development Establishment (SRDE), involved in communications research, joined the RRE to form the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE).

Malvern, Worcestershire spa town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England

Malvern is a spa town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England. It lies at the foot of the Malvern Hills, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The centre of Malvern, Great Malvern, is a historic conservation area, which grew dramatically in Victorian times due to the natural mineral water springs in the vicinity, including Malvern Water.

Research career

Solid state physics and electronics

Gunn's first full-time job was with the computer manufacturer Elliott Brothers in London. In 1953 he returned to RRE in Malvern, taking up a post as a Junior Government Research Fellow, where he worked on avalanche injection, carrier accumulation and related topics in experimental semiconductor physics.

Elliott Brothers (computer company) company

Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd was an early computer company of the 1950s–60s in the United Kingdom. It traced its descent from a firm of instrument makers founded by William Elliott in London around 1804. The research laboratories were originally set up in 1946 at Borehamwood and the first Elliott 152 computer appeared in 1950.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a metal, like copper, gold, etc. and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistance decreases as its temperature increases, which is behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by the deliberate, controlled introduction of impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor and is used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave-frequency integrated circuits and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

Gunn left England for North America as part of the post-war brain drain. He first moved to Canada in 1956, to take up an Assistant Professorship at the University of British Columbia, [8] before going to the United States in 1959 to work at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center at Yorktown Heights, New York. Gunn stayed with IBM for the rest of his career, spending time on the Corporate Technology Committee, and at the San Jose research lab in California, before returning to Yorktown. [1] He retired in 1990.

In 1962, while working for IBM, he discovered the Gunn effect [9] based upon his refusal to accept inconsistent experimental results in Gallium arsenide as simply "noise". [10] This led to the invention of the Gunn diode, a miniature microwave generator. [11] While Gunn recognized the importance of the effect, he was not able to determine the underlying physical process. In December 1964, Herbert Kroemer claimed that the Gunn effect was based upon the Ridley-Watkins-Hilsum effect. [12] Alan Chynoweth, of Bell Telephone Laboratories, showed in June 1965 that only a transferred-electron mechanism could explain the experimental results. [10]

Gunn's research papers on solid state physics and electronics relate to microwave oscillations, lattice wave amplification, the Hall effect, quantum electronics, and applications of microwave oscillations to astrophysics.

Research in other fields

Gunn stopped working on semiconductor physics in 1972, and pursued a number of different interests in his role as IBM Fellow. He spent nearly three years developing an APL computer model of a computer-controlled car, which showed that fuel consumption could be halved. [13] This was part of a joint effort with John Cocke, who made major contributions to computer architecture, and R. A. Toupin in a study, that used computer simulation to investigate regenerative braking, a high-pressure hydraulic system to store energy, and several other topics that are now quite common practice. [14]

He then became engrossed in APL itself, seeing it as a way to "make a tool to make a tool to do something" (just like his extensive home machine shop). His work on "self documenting code" led to early work in computer viruses. [15] At one point he was mistakenly credited with inventing the term.

In the early 1980s, IBM was having problems with particular circuit boards failing even though they had passed their initial reliability tests. He was the first to suggest non-linear measurements to detect incipient opens, and this led to a production tool which effectively solved the problem. [13] Later, he was involved in various task forces addressing the design and reliability of new disk drives.

His final area of technical investigation was multi-valued logic. The philosopher Patrick Grim states "J. B. Gunn has done significant work in solving various self-referential sentences in this sense. See for example his 'Notes on an Algebraic Logic of Self-Reference', unpublished. I am obliged to Gunn for extensive and very helpful correspondence. PG" [16] However, IBM was less interested in this area, and he retired from IBM in 1990.

Even after retirement, he continued to apply his problem solving approach to his motorcycle racing: "The world is not full of unfathomable mysteries that you can only solve with luck. If you really want to understand why something is happening, you can probably attack it in a scientific way and find out what is going on." [13]

Awards and honours

He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received the 1969 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award, the Valdemar Poulsen Medal of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and the John Scott Award. He was named an IEEE Fellow in 1968 and IBM Fellow in 1971. [17]

Motorcycle racing

Ian Gunn’s motorcycle racing career spanned 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, in the UK and US, during which time he raced with such greats as Geoff Duke, Phil Read, Mike Hailwood, Eddie Lawson, Colin Edwards, and Scott Russell. [18] His career included two Grand Prix, but mostly he raced in the "club races".

He started riding motorcycles at Cambridge in 1945, and started racing in 1950. He married Freda Pilcher (1924–1975) on the Saturday of August Bank holiday, raced his International Norton at Blandford, Dorset, on the Sunday, before continuing on to their honeymoon. By 1951 it had evolved to a Manx/Inter hybrid, which he raced at one of the few motorcycle races at Goodwood, and then in the 1951 Isle of Man Senior TT, finishing 37th out of 80 starters. [19]

He put motorcycle racing aside while at RRE, but continued to ride on the street. Before leaving for Canada in 1956 he sold all his motorcycles, including a 1928 CS1 Norton, named "Father William" after Lewis Carroll's You Are Old, Father William for its reliability in spite of its age. He had no bikes while at UBC, but bought a Ducati 200 shortly after moving to IBM, and started racing with Association of American Motorcycle Road Racers (AAMRR). Initially his race transport was a VW Beetle with the passenger and rear seats removed. In 1964 it was replaced by a VW bus, and the 200 was replaced by a Ducati Mach 1S 250. On that bike he won his first race, at one of the few motorcycle races at Watkins Glen. He also raced it in the FIM 1965 US Grand Prix at Daytona. He qualified in the front half of the field, and ran as high as 10th, but retired with a minor mechanical failure.

By 1967, it was clear that 2-strokes were dominating the sport, so he bought a Kawasaki A1R (250cc), which he raced through the end of the decade. From 1971 to 1976 he took a break from motorcycling. In the first part of this break he acquired a vintage Ferrari 375MM, which he raced in vintage races, including one at Watkins Glen. [20] In 1974 and 1975 he tended to his wife, who died in August 1975.

By 1976, road racing had adopted the "formula" structure, which allowed 2-strokes and 4-strokes to compete on a more even basis. He acquired a Ducati 750 Imola Desmo which he raced successfully through 1990. In 1991 he bought a 1990 Ducati 888 SP2. With its electronic ignition and electronic fuel injection, this brought his professional expertise to the race track. He was one of the first privateers with his own chip writer. In parallel with racing modern bikes, he also raced vintage bikes, mostly English and Italian bikes from the 1950s and 1960s. He raced both new and old bikes through 2000, saying "I’ll keep at it as long as it is fun".

Regretting the bikes he sold when he left England, and determined not to make the same mistake again, he kept all but two of the bikes he bought in the US, and bought back "Father William" in 1993, ending up with 40 motorcycles, which he kept in a milking parlour and hay barn attached to the house.

Gunn also owned a few classic cars, including a 1929 supercharged 1750 SS Alfa and a 1971Datsun 240Z. In April 1972, Gunn paid $10,000 for Ferrari 375 MM chassis No. s/n 0382 AM, the ninth and last of the 1953 4.5litre V12 spyder series cars built for racing in 1954. Built originally for American semi-professional racer Bill Spear, after competing in SCAA events in the hands of various owner/drivers, Gunn competed in the car for the 1972 and 1973 events, before retiring the by then non-working car to his collection. After Gunn's death in 2008, his three daughters sold the car to noted Ferrari collector Andreas Mohringer of Austria. After refurbishment and then display at the Pebble Beach concourse event, it was shipped back to Paul Russell's shop in New England. [20]


  1. This was somewhat unusual, as his BA degree from Cambridge made him automatically eligible for a Cambridge MA.

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  1. 1 2 "Physics Today Obituaries: John Battiscombe Gunn". American Institute of Physics. 13 February 2009. Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
  2. "Microwaves hall of fame: John Battiscombe Gunn". Microwaves 101. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  3. "Racer Ian Gunn RIP". Roadracingworld.com. 6 December 2008. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  4. 1 2 Hughes, Spike (1951), Second Movement - Continuing the Autobiography, London: Museum Press
  5. Alumna records of Trinity College, Cambridge for 1946 to 1948
  6. A. A. McKenzie (May 1969). "TheCase of J. B. Gunn". IEEE Student Journal. 7 (3): 2–6.
  7. Hughes, Spike (1946), Opening Bars - Beginning an Autobiography, London: Pilot Press
  8. University of British Columbia Calendar 1957-1958 (PDF), University of British Columbia, 1957, p. 23, retrieved 12 December 2010
  9. J. B. Gunn (1963). "Microwave Oscillation of Current in III-V Semiconductors". Solid State Communications . 1 (4): 88–91. Bibcode:1963SSCom...1...88G. doi:10.1016/0038-1098(63)90041-3.
  10. 1 2 John Voelcker (1989). "The Gunn effect: puzzling over noise". IEEE Spectrum . ISSN   0018-9235.
  11. US 3365583,Gunn, J. B.,"Electric field responsive solid state devices",published 12 June 1964,issued 23 January 1968
  12. Kroemer, H (December 1964). "Theory of the Gunn effect". Proceedings of the IEEE. 52 (12): 1736. doi:10.1109/PROC.1964.3476. ISSN   0018-9219.
  13. 1 2 3 "Sustained achievement: Ian Gunn". IBM Research Magazine. 24 (1): 6–7. 1986.
  14. Cocke, J.; Gunn, J.B.; Toupin., R.A (31 January 1974). "Section IX: Energy Conserving and Computer Dependent Private Car (with Outline and Notes on Possible Developments in Energy Conservation and Computer Control for Private Cars)". Report to the Director of Research by the Energy Task Force ("ETF"). IBM.
  15. Gunn, J.B. (June 1984). "Use of virus functions to provide a virtual APL interpreter under user control" (PDF). ACM SIGAPL APL Quote Quad Archive. 14 (4): 163–168. doi:10.1145/384283.801093. ISSN   0163-6006.
  16. Grim, Patrick; Mar, Gary; St. May, Paul (1998). The Philosophical Computer: Exploratory Essays in Philosophical Computer Modeling. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN   978-0-262-07185-7.
  17. "In Memoriam: John Battiscombe Gunn". The Institute. IEEE. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  18. Green, Mike (July 1994). "Of Diodes and Desmos: the Story of Ian Gunn". Roadracing World.
  19. "Race Results - The Official Isle of Man TT website - TT 1951 Senior Results". www.iomtt.com. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  20. 1 2 Alan Boe (January 2011). "375 MM 0382 AM Out of the Darkness - Once Lost and Now Found" (PDF). Cavallino (180): 33–43.