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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.

Celebrations underway: Lynn Conway & Carver Mead

February 14th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

These several months are a great time to learn how the innovations of Lynn Conway and Carver Mead influenced the arc of history of the microelectronics industry.

The entire fall issue of IEEE’s Solid State Circuits Magazine is dedicated to Lynn Conway’s contributions to VLSI design and manufacturing. Monday morning, February 18th, Carver Mead will be keynoting at the opening plenary session of ISSCC in San Francisco. And next month at DATE 2013 in Grenoble, a panel entitled “The Heritage of Mead & Conway” will take place in Tuesday, March 19th.

The DATE panel will be moderated by U.C. Berkeley’s Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, and will include IMEC’s Hugo de Man, Synopsys’ Antun Domic, U.C. Berkeley’s Jan Rabaey, CMP’s Bernard Courtois, and Columbia’s Luca Carloni. Per the conference program, the panel will discuss “what has remained the same [since the Mead-Conway VLSI Revolution], what was missed, what has changed, and what lies ahead.”

After attending this week’s U.C. Berkeley’s EECS Annual Research Symposium on February 14th, I had a chance to chat briefly with Prof. Sangiovanni-Vincentelli at his office in Cory Hall. I asked if he himself felt anything had been “missed” that might have been realized by the myriad innovations that followed the publication of Mead-Conway’s seminal text book, Introduction to VLSI Systems, in 1980 and the introduction of associated courses at 100+ universities nationwide in the years that followed.

Prof. Sangiovanni-Vincentelli said he is confident that the full set of opportunities made available by the VLSI revolution have been embraced; nothing was missed. On the contrary, he said, a very important legacy of Mead-Conway was to bring computer scientists into courses where they could learn to understand circuit design:

“Following that, we had humungous turnouts of students in computer science classes about VLSI design who had never seen an integrated circuit in their life. [Mead-Conway] demystified the complexity of designing chips and opened up the consciousness and realization of a technology that previously had only been available to electrical engineers.”

I asked the professor why now for the SSC Magazine, ISSCC and DATE coverage of Mead-Conway. He said it’s been about 30 years since the innovations were introduced. I said, actually it’s been about 32 years since the book was published and perhaps that’s the answer.

“Yes,” Prof. Sangiovanni-Vincentelli laughed. “It does indeed look like the answer is 32!”

To learn more …

You can learn more about Lynn Conway in the present online article posted on ABC News.

You can learn more about Carver Mead by viewing the online video from his plenary keynote at ISSCC, which will be posted shortly after the conclusion of the conference in San Francisco.


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2 Responses to “Celebrations underway: Lynn Conway & Carver Mead”

  1. Bob Smith says:

    Thank you for this post. I had the pleasure of working with both Lynn and Carver back in the day. Was at a small company that took on the processing (CIF files!) for all of the colleges and universities teaching the Mead/Conway approach to VLSI and getting the multi-project chips fabbed. From there we developed the software to do the first multi-project wafers and offered that to industry (mainly adopted at the time by the defense and aerospace companies). Of course, we now call these MPW shuttles.

    Lynn and Carver both encouraged us and advised us as we developed the new capability. They were clearly a driving force behind our efforts to develop the software that led to the first multi-project wafers.

  2. Bill Martin says:

    This book was used by Prof J. Abraham in an experimental class (EE371) at Illinois in 1980 along with some HW/SW supplied by HP. A small class (~10) used this book and had a final project that required design, layout and if we could get it completed a ‘trip’ on a MOSIS wafer run. Few, if any, were able to run silicon. In a small world, Bill Salefski, was my TA. At the time, a great book and perfect timing to teach a new generation of students a different and faster method.

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