John R. Pierce

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John Robinson Pierce
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John Robinson Pierce
BornMarch 27, 1910 (1910-03-27)
DiedApril 2, 2002(2002-04-02) (aged 92)
Awards Stuart Ballantine Medal (1960)
IEEE Edison Medal (1963)
IEEE Medal of Honor (1975)
Marconi Prize (1979)
Japan Prize (1985)

John Robinson Pierce (March 27, 1910 – April 2, 2002), was an American engineer and author. He worked extensively in the fields of radio communication, microwave technology, computer music, psychoacoustics, and science fiction. [1] As a sideline to his professional career he wrote science fiction for many years under various names: John Pierce, John R. Pierce, and J. J. Coupling. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he earned his PhD from Caltech, and died in Palo Alto, California from complications of Parkinson's Disease.

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.

Computer music is the application of computing technology in music composition, to help human composers create new music or to have computers independently create music, such as with algorithmic composition programs. It includes the theory and application of new and existing computer software technologies and basic aspects of music, such as sound synthesis, digital signal processing, sound design, sonic diffusion, acoustics, and psychoacoustics. The field of computer music can trace its roots back to the origins of electronic music, and the very first experiments and innovations with electronic instruments at the turn of the 20th century.

Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception and audiology – how humans perceive various sounds. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound. It can be further categorized as a branch of psychophysics. Psychoacoustics received its name from a field within psychology—i.e., recognition science—which deals with all kinds of human perceptions. It is an interdisciplinary field of many areas, including psychology, acoustics, electronic engineering, physics, biology, physiology, and computer science.


At Bell Labs

Pierce wrote on electronics and information theory, and developed jointly the concept of Pulse code modulation (PCM) with his Bell Labs colleagues Barney Oliver and Claude Shannon. He supervised the Bell Labs team which built the first transistor, and at the request of one of them, Walter Brattain, coined the term transistor ; he recalled:

Electronics physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter

Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. The identification of the electron in 1897, along with the invention of the vacuum tube, which could amplify and rectify small electrical signals, inaugurated the field of electronics and the electron age.

Information theory studies the quantification, storage, and communication of information. It was originally proposed by Claude Shannon in 1948 to find fundamental limits on signal processing and communication operations such as data compression, in a landmark paper entitled "A Mathematical Theory of Communication". Applications of fundamental topics of information theory include lossless data compression, lossy data compression, and channel coding. Its impact has been crucial to the success of the Voyager missions to deep space, the invention of the compact disc, the feasibility of mobile phones, the development of the Internet, the study of linguistics and of human perception, the understanding of black holes, and numerous other fields.

Bell Labs research and scientific development company

Nokia Bell Labs is an industrial research and scientific development company owned by Finnish company Nokia. Its headquarters are located in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Other laboratories are located around the world. Bell Labs has its origins in the complex past of the Bell System.

The way I provided the name, was to think of what the device did. And at that time, it was supposed to be the dual of the vacuum tube. The vacuum tube had transconductance, so the transistor would have 'transresistance.' And the name should fit in with the names of other devices, such as varistor and thermistor. And ... I suggested the name 'transistor.'

John R. Pierce, interviewed for PBS show "Transistorized!"

Pierce's early work at Bell Labs was on vacuum tubes of all sorts. During World War II he discovered the work of Rudolf Kompfner in a British radar lab, where Kompfner had invented the traveling-wave tube; [2] Pierce worked out the math for this broadband amplifier device, and wrote a book about it, after hiring Kompfner for Bell Labs. [3] He later recounted that "Rudy Kompfner invented the traveling-wave tube, but I discovered it." According to Kompfner's book, the statement "Rudi invented the traveling-wave tube, and John discovered it" was due to Dr. Eugene G. Fubini, quoted in The New Yorker "Profile" on Pierce, September 21, 1963.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Rudolf Kompfner was an Austrian-born engineer and physicist, best known as the inventor of the traveling-wave tube (TWT).

Pierce is widely credited for saying "Nature abhors a vacuum tube", but Pierce attributed that quip to Myron Glass . Others [4] say that quip was "commonly heard at the Bell Laboratories prior to the invention of the transistor."

Other famous Pierce quips are "Funding artificial intelligence is real stupidity", "I thought of it the first time I saw it", and "After growing wildly for years, the field of computing appears to be reaching its infancy."

The National Inventors Hall of Fame has honored Bernard M. Oliver [5] and Claude Shannon [6] as the inventors of PCM, [7] as described in 'Communication System Employing Pulse Code Modulation,' U.S. Patent 2,801,281 filed in 1946 and 1952, granted in 1956. Another patent by the same title was filed by John Pierce in 1945, and issued in 1948: U.S. Patent 2,437,707 . The three of them published "The Philosophy of PCM" in 1948. [8]

National Inventors Hall of Fame Award

The National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) is an American not-for-profit organization which recognizes individual engineers and inventors who hold a U.S. patent of highly significant technology. Founded in 1973, its primary mission is to "honor the people responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible." Besides the Hall of Fame, it also operates a museum in Alexandria, Virginia, and a former middle school in Akron, Ohio, and sponsors educational programs, a collegiate competition, and special projects all over the United States to encourage creativity among students.

Bernard M. Oliver, also known as Barney Oliver, was a scientist who made contributions in many fields, including radar, television, and computers. He was the founder and director of Hewlett Packard (HP) laboratories until his retirement in 1981. He is also a recognized pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Oliver was president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1965. In 1986, Oliver was a National Medal of Science recipient for Engineering Science and on February 11, 2004 it was announced that Oliver had been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Claude Shannon American mathematician and information theorist

Claude Elwood Shannon was an American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer known as "the father of information theory". Shannon is noted for having founded information theory with a landmark paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, that he published in 1948.

Pierce did significant research into satellites, including an important leadership role (as executive director of Bell's Research-Communications Principles Division [9] in the development of the first commercial communications satellite, Telstar 1. [10] In fact, although Arthur C. Clarke was the first to propose geostationary communications satellites, Pierce seems to have arrived at the idea independently and may have been the first to discuss unmanned communications satellites. Clarke himself characterized Pierce as "one of the two fathers of the communications satellite" (along with Harold Rosen). [11] See ECHO – America's First Communications Satellite (reprinted from SMEC Vintage Electrics Volume 2 #1) for some details on his original contributions.

Communications satellite artificial satellite designed for telecommunications

A communications satellite is an artificial satellite that relays and amplifies radio telecommunications signals via a transponder; it creates a communication channel between a source transmitter and a receiver at different locations on Earth. Communications satellites are used for television, telephone, radio, internet, and military applications. There are 2,134 communications satellites in Earth’s orbit, used by both private and government organizations. Many are in geostationary orbit 22,200 miles (35,700 km) above the equator, so that the satellite appears stationary at the same point in the sky, so the satellite dish antennas of ground stations can be aimed permanently at that spot and do not have to move to track it.

Telstar 1

Telstar 1 was a communications satellite launched by NASA on July 10, 1962, it was the satellite that allowed the first live broadcast of television images between the United States and Europe. It remained active for only 7 months, a much shorter service life than today's artificial satellites. Although it no longer works, it is still in the orbit of the Earth.

Arthur C. Clarke British science fiction writer, science writer, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.

Life after Bell Labs

After leaving Bell Laboratories, he joined Caltech as a professor of electrical engineering in 1971. Shortly thereafter, he also took the position of Chief Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 1980 he retired from Caltech and moved to his final position at Stanford's CCRMA. Here he was prominent in the research of computer music, as a Visiting Professor of Music, Emeritus (along with John Chowning and Max Mathews). It was at Stanford that he became an independent co-discoverer of the non-octave musical scale that he later named the Bohlen–Pierce scale.

Many of Pierce's technical books were written at a level intended to introduce a semi-technical audience to modern technical topics. Among them are Electrons, Waves, and Messages; An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals, and Noise; Waves and Ear; Man's World of Sound; Quantum Electronics; and Signals: The Science of Telecommunication. [12]

In 1960, Pierce was awarded the Stuart Ballantine Medal. In 1963, Pierce received the IEEE Edison Medal for "his pioneer work and leadership in satellite communications and for his stimulus and contributions to electron optics, travelling wave tube theory, and the control of noise in electron streams." In 1975, he received the IEEE Medal of Honor for "his pioneering concrete proposals and the realization of satellite communication experiments, and for contributions in theory and design of traveling wave tubes and in electron beam optics essential to this success." In 1985, he was one of the first two recipients of the Japan Prize "for outstanding achievement in the field of electronics and communications technologies." [13]

Personal life

Besides his technical books, Pierce wrote science fiction under the pseudonym J.J. Coupling, which refers to the total angular momenta of individual particles. [14] John Pierce also had an early interest in gliding and assisted in the development of the Long Beach Glider Club in Los Angeles, one of the earliest glider clubs in the United States.

Pierce had been a resident of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, Pasadena, California, and later of Palo Alto, California. [15] At his death Pierce was survived by his wife; a son, science fiction editor John Jeremy Pierce; and a daughter, Elizabeth Anne Pierce. [16]

In his later years, as a Visiting Professor at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, he and his wife Brenda were known for holding dinner parties in their Palo Alto home, in which they would invite an eclectic mix of guests and lead lively discussions on topics ranging from space exploration to politics, health care, and 20th-century music. One such dinner party was reported in This Is Your Brain On Music, written by Pierce's former student Daniel Levitin.

The papers of John R. Pierce are at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. [17]

See also

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  1. Mathews, Max (December 2003). "Obituary: John Robinson Pierce". Physics Today. 56 (12): 88. doi:10.1063/1.1650249.
  2. Kompfner, Rudolf, The Invention of the Traveling-Wave Tube, San Francisco Press, 1964.
  3. J. R. Pierce, Traveling-Wave Tubes, New York: van Nostrand Co., 1950
  4. Frederick Seitz, Norman G Einspruch, Electronic Genie: The Tangled History of Silicon, Univ. of Illinois, 1998
  5. "Bernard Oliver". National Inventor's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on December 5, 2010. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  6. "Claude Shannon". National Inventor's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  7. "National Inventors Hall of Fame announces 2004 class of inventors". Science Blog. February 11, 2004. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  8. B. M. Oliver; J. R. Pierce; C. E. Shannon (Nov 1948). "The Philosophy of PCM". Proceedings of the IRE. 36 (11): 1324–1331. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1948.231941. ISSN   0096-8390.
  10. John R. Pierce (1990). "Telstar, A History". SMEC Vintage Electrics.
  11. "John Robinson Pierce," Arthur C. Clarke, Locus, May 2002, p.69
  12. John R. Pierce and A. Michael Noll, SIGNALS: The Science of Telecommunication, Scientific American Books (New York, NY), 1990.
  13. LAUREATES; 1985 (1st) Japan Prize Laureates; Prize Category: Information and Communications; Dr. John R. Pierce (United States)
  14. Love, Allan W. (June 1985). "In Memory of Carl A. Wiley". Antennas and Propagation Society Newsletter. IEEE: 17–18.
  15. Kamin, Arthur Z. "State Becomes a Part of Celebrating Marconi's Achievements", The New York Times , October 23, 1994. Accessed July 6, 2008. "The recipient in 1979 was Dr. John R. Pierce, then of the California Institute of Technology who had been with AT&T Bell Laboratories at Murray Hill and at Holmdel. Dr. Pierce had lived in Berkeley Heights and now lives in Palo Alto, Calif."
  16. Memorial Resolution: John Robinson Pierce (1910–2002) Archived July 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  17. Edward E. David, Jr.; Max V. Mathews; A. Michael Noll. "John Robinson Pierce". Biographical Memoirs. National Academies Press. Retrieved December 8, 2009.