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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Chenming Hu: Looking at life from both sides now

January 3rd, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

Last night, Judy Collins gave a holiday concert at Davies Hall in San Francisco to a sold-out crowd of acolytes. Only an artist of Collins’ fame would be allowed to ofttimes warble off-key, forget the occasional lyric, and natter on in and around the music, yet still receive a standing ovation. After all, at 73 she is still full of performing fire, still full of attitude and life. Her appearance at Davies was a celebration of that life, lived to the fullest and in many different spheres.

Last week, U.C. Berkeley’s EECS Department threw a birthday party/symposium for Chenming Hu in Sutardja Dai Hall for an SRO crowd of past students, present students and acolytes, friends and family. Only an educator and technologist of Hu’s stature – former CTO of TSMC, ‘father’ of the FinFET, ‘godfather’ of BSIM and an international expert on CMOS device models – would be honored thusly in his 65th year by the University, and allowed to hand pick the list of speakers who filled the day-long event.

Not the least among those chosen was Ramune Nagisetty, a former MSEE student of Hu’s, who now leads a team at Intel/Hillsboro. Nagisetty recently added self-taught guitarist and vocalist/lyricist to her CV, and no matter that she ofttimes warbled off-key during her lunchtime and mid-afternoon performances during the symposium, and nattered on in and around her music, she still received a jumped-to-their-feet ovation from Hu et al.

That’s because Nagisetty was just one part of the evidence offered on December 13th – talks, demonstrations, and performances – to prove that Chenming Hu’s life to date has been lived to the fullest and in many different spheres: His family was in attendance to celebrate with the crowd, Hu’s paintings, and those of his wife and sons, were on display in the lobby outside Banatao Auditorium, Nagisetty’s music was presented, and a remarkable group of technologists as diverse as …

Tsu-Jae King Liu– EECS Professor, U.C. Berkeley
Dado Banatao – Managing Partner & Founder, Tallwood Venture Capital
Sayeef Salahuddin– EECS Professor, U.C. Berkeley
Khandker Quader – SVP, SanDisk
Clement Wann – Director, TSMC
Yee-Chia Yeo – ECE Professor, National University of Singapore
Ali Javey – EECS Professor, U.C. Berkeley
Jeffrey Bokor– EECS Professor, U.C. Berkeley
Klaus Schuegraf – Silicon Systems Group VP/CTO, Applied Materials
Sally Liu – Design Technology Division Technical Director, TSMC
Ali Niknejad – EECS Professor, U.C. Berkeley
Zhihong Liu – Executive Chairman, ProPlus
Boon-Khim Liew – Wafer Foundry Manager, Nvidia
Dennis Sylvester – EECS Professor, University of Michigan
Elyse Rosenbaum – EECS Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne

… many in the Bay Area last week for IEDM, offered a series of deeply technical talks on everything from Flash memory, to FinFETs and semiconductor manufacturing, RF design, sub-20nm design, nanowatt computing, novel devices beyond CMOS, and the future of engineering in North America versus China – all with the purpose of proving that no small part of their own individual successes, professional and personal, as well the success of the semiconductor industry have been due to the innovations and exquisite mentoring of Chenming Hu.

Among the commentaries, Applied Materials’ Klaus Schuegraf said he learned from Hu, his PhD adviser, to “think creatively” and noted that along with his well-documented professional achievements, Dr. Hu has also raised a family, is an accomplished painter, and astonishingly, has climbed Mt. Everest.

During her talk, TSMC’s Sally Liu said Hu’s contributions to the fundamental understanding of device physics, and the mathematical underpinnings therein, have meant that BSIM [Berkeley Short-Channel IGFET Model] has provided a critical, and openly available, foundation for the growth of the world-wide semiconductor industry.

In his address, Berkeley’s legendary technologist, Ali Niknejad, noted that many Star Trek gadgets that were the stuff of science fiction in the past are now the stuff of engineering fact in the present. Niknejad said, “The compact BSIM model is the key. It’s the interface between the circuit designer and the technology. [Thanks to BSIM], the circuit designer doesn’t need to understand the device physics, only [the circuit behavior].”

From the podium, ProPlus’ Zhihong Liu noted that he also studied under Hu at Cal, and was warned by others at the time not to defeat Hu on the competitive field of grad-student baseball, lest he by punished by working for Hu “forever.” Liu got a big laugh when he said, “And then, I worked for Hu professionally for the next 10 years.”

Chenming Hu was founding chairman at Celestry Design Technologies [acquired by Cadence], where Liu served as President and CEO. Now at ProPlus, where Liu is executive chairman, Hu sits on the board. Liu went on to praise Hu’s visionary entrepreneurship, and said that leadership continues to inform Liu’s current work in EDA, particularly in China.

From academia, Michigan’s Dennis Sylvester enumerated the critical lessons he learned from Hu, also his PhD adviser, about teaching engineering, and got a big laugh with Number 1: “Hu told me [at the outset of my studies], if you want a job, always stick with silicon!”

Sylvester continued the list of Hu-inspired concepts: 2) Research is fun; 3) Spend your time developing ideas, not polishing a PhD thesis; 4) Don’t let students develop tunnel vision related to their own work – keep them engaged in the work of their fellow students; 5) Not every experiment goes as planned, and that’s okay. 6) Empower your students early – encourage them to submit papers for publication, and to bid for internships; 7) Always strike a balance between hands-on in helping your students, and hands-off in letting them fail and then continue.

Sylvester got the biggest laugh, however, with Number 8) Choose the name of your grad-student baseball team wisely. As Hu’s student, Sylvester played on a Berkeley EECS team called Hot Electrons.

As the sun set over the Cal campus, the day’s presentations ended on a decidedly zany note from another voice in academia: UIUC’s highly energetic Elyse Rosenbaum offered her response to declining engineering enrollment, described the program she’s spearheading to get electrical concepts into the hands of school children, and proceeded to demonstrate.

To the overwhelming delight of her audience, Rosenbaum got the guest of honor – Chenming Hu, TSMC Distinguished Professor of EECS at U.C. Berkeley, author of 4 textbooks, 900+ technical papers, and 100+ patents – to enthusiastically rub a Styrofoam plate on his hair to garner enough static electricity to allow Prof. Rosenbaum to discharge lightning from finger-tip to finger-tip in the circle of former Hu grad students she had assembled up on stage.

And so it was, with this theatrical display of hilarity, technical high-jinx, and joie de vivre – no doubt, unparalleled in the history of Berkeley’s EECS department – the day-long birthday tribute to the man who has done so much to inspire ‘intellectual’ lightning among so many in his 35+ years of teaching at U.C. Berkeley, came to an end.

By the way, however, Chenming Hu is not done.

At 65, he is clearly still full of teaching and technical fire, still full of attitude and life. His birthday party at U.C. Berkeley was the quintessential celebration of that life, lived to the fullest and across many different spheres. And it was a celebration that ended with a standing ovation.

Editor’s note …

During the afternoon break in the symposium on December 13th, I had a chance to speak for a few minutes with Chenming Hu in the lobby of Sutardja Dai Hall about the late Richard Newton. While we were talking, Ramune Nagisetty sang nearby, entertaining the milling crowd with a rendition of White Rabbit.

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,” she intoned, while Prof. Hu sang the praises of the late Dean of Engineering.

What a Berkeley moment, I thought to myself. What a Berkeley moment.


I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

— Joni Mitchell


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