Carver Mead

From Academic Kids

Professor Carver Andress Mead (born 1 May 1934, in Bakersfield, California) is a prominent U.S. computer scientist. He is the Gordon and Betty Moore professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), having taught there for over 40 years.

Mead studied electrical engineering at Caltech, getting his B.S. in 1956, his M.S. in 1957, and his Ph.D. degree in 1959.

Carver Mead and Lynn Conway co-wrote the landmark text Introduction to VLSI systems in 1980. A pioneering and well-written textbook, it has been used in VLSI integrated circuit education all over the world for decades. Mead is credited by Intel's (then Fairchild Semiconductor's) Gordon Moore of coining the term Moore's Law [1] (, denoting the observation/prediction Moore did in 1965 about the growth rate of the transistor amount fitting on a single integrated circuit.

In relation to his 2002 award with the National Medal of Technology, his biography at a webpage of the Technology Administration of the United States government says:

    Carver Mead is a key pioneer of modern microelectronics. His 40-year academic and industry career touches all aspects of microelectronics, from spearheading the development of tools and techniques for modern integrated circuit design, to laying the foundation for fabless semiconductor companies, to catalyzing the electronic design automation field, to training generations of engineers, to founding more than twenty companies, including Actel Corporation, Silicon Compilers, Synaptics, and Sonic Innovations.
    Carver's career is characterized by an endless string of "firsts." He built the first GaAs MESFET, a device that is today a mainstay of wireless electronics. He was the first to use a physics-based analysis to predict a lower limit to transistor size. His predictions, along with the notions of scalability that came with them, were instrumental in setting the industry on its path toward submicron technology. He was the first to predict millions of transistors on a chip, and, on the basis of these predictions, he developed the first techniques for designing big, complex microchips. He taught the world's first VLSI design course. He created the first software compilation of a silicon chip.
   Halfway through his career he switched direction, teaming with Professor John Hopfield and Nobelist Richard Feynman to study how animal brains compute. The trio catalyzed three fields: Neural Networks, Neuromorphic Engineering, and Physics of Computation. Carver created the first neurally inspired chips, including the silicon retina and chips that learn from experience, and founded the first companies to use these technologies: Synaptics, and Foveon, Inc., a Santa Clara, California company developing CMOS image sensor/processing chips (for use in e.g. digital photography).
    Carver's teaching legacy is every bit as significant as his research. He taught the original founders of Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Silicon Design Labs, and countless others. His work in electronic design automation (EDA) created companies such as Silicon Compilers and Cascade Semiconductor Design. He and Ivan Sutherland created the computer science department at Caltech. The 1980 textbook he coauthored with Lynn Conway, Introduction to VLSI Design, was standard training for a generation of engineers. His 1989 textbook, Analog VLSI and Neural Systems, trained interdisciplinary researchers who are poised today to revolutionize the frontier of computing and neurobiology. Although retired. Carver continues his teaching tradition today: His new passion is finding a better way to teach freshman physics, using the quantum nature of matter as a sole basis.


  • "Listen to the technology; find out what it's telling you."

  • "The quantum world is a world of waves, not particles. So we have to think of electron waves and proton waves and so on. Matter is 'incoherent' when all its waves have a different wavelength, implying a different momentum. On the other hand, if you take a pure quantum system - the electrons in a superconducting magnet, or the atoms in a laser - they are all in phase with one another, and they demonstrate the wave nature of matter on a large scale. Then you can see quite visibly what matter is down at its heart." (Carver Mead Interview, American Spectator, Sep/Oct2001, Vol. 34 Issue 7, p68)

Also see: The Wave Structure of Matter


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