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

Celebrating Lives: Martin Vlach & Jiri Vlach

 
March 9th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

Dr. Martin Vlach will be hosting a Celebration of Life to honor the life of his late father, Dr. Jiri Vlach, on Saturday, March 14th. Both father and son are uniquely renowned for their contributions to various technologies at the center of semiconductor design.

Interestingly, when fathers are accomplished, the sons often suffer, fearing their own accomplishments may not match the track records laid down by their father before them. When exceptions occur they are well worth noting, and certainly that is the case with Martin Vlach, Mentor Graphic’s Chief Technologist for Analog-Mixed Signal, and his father, Jiri Vlach, until his passing last month, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Born in Czechoslovakia, but emigrated to North America as a teen, Vlach the Younger earned his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Waterloo in 1984 and went on to achieve great things in EDA. He wrote numerous simulators, Synopsys’ Saber among them, and the MAST HDL targeted at AMS design.

Martin also started two different companies: Analogy in 1986, which he helped lead for 15 years through its IPO and eventual acquisition by Avanti/Synopsys; and Lynguent in 2004, a provider of tools for creating models for analog/mixed signal design based on the ModLyng Integrating Modeling Environment architected by Vlach the Younger.

Entrepreneur, scientist, engineer, when Martin Vlach was named a Fellow of the IEEE in February 2014, he was cited for, “leadership in analog and mixed-signal hardware description languages and their simulation tools.”

Though elderly at the time of his son’s award, Jiri Vlach thoroughly celebrated Martin’s triumph. Vlach the Elder was in a unique position to understand the implications of such an award, because he too was a Fellow of the IEEE, receiving that designation in 1982 for contributions in the areas of circuit analysis and design.

Both Vlach the Elder and Vlach the Younger have contributed significantly, as evidenced by their IEEE Fellow status. Only one other father/son duo has ever achieved such a status.

When Vlach the Elder passed away last month, he was 92 years old and still gifted with the sharp intellect that characterized his entire life; he’d just published the most recent edition of his text, “Linear Circuit Theory: Matrices in Computer Applications”, last year. When Jiri Vlach wasn’t laboring away as an active emeritus professor at Waterloo, he was biking, hiking, and keeping his family on their toes, up until the final months of his long and distinguished life.

When I spoke to Martin Vlach this week about his late father, the conversation was complex and nuanced, particularly because I strongly believe that many sons really do suffer when they live in the shadows of their fathers. Instead, Vlach the Younger is immensely proud of his father’s accomplishments, and his father’s perseverance through many years of adversity in early life.

Vlach the Elder was born in 1922 in Czechoslovakia, was prevented from studying engineering by the German occupation, but eventually went on to complete a PhD from the Czech Technical University in Prague after the war in 1948 despite his early setbacks.

Within a few years, however, Czechoslovakia was again an occupied country, this time by the Soviet Union, so Jiri Vlach, his wife and teen-aged son Martin, fled to North America, first taking up residence at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the late 1960’s, where Martin started his university studies. Then the family moved on to Canada’s University of Waterloo, where the lion’s share of Vlach the Elder’s work and contributions to technology and academia took place.

Considering the long journey for Jiri Vlach – his life violently buffeted by decades of war and upheaval in Eastern Europe – it’s remarkable that he was such a pivotal and steadfast contributor to the technology of IC design. Perhaps it was that arduous journey that shaped the man and made him tougher, more resilient, more disciplined, and more determined to focus on the life of his mind, knowing how it had felt to have it denied to him in his youth.

Comparing the son’s journey to the father’s: Although Martin Vlach’s life was not directly affected by open warfare, nonetheless he had to survive the transition as a teen from the home and culture he knew, to a brand-new continent, language, and way of life. Anyone who has endured emigration, particularly when half-grown, knows how difficult it can be. So it certainly cannot be said of Vlach the Younger that his life was a cakewalk.

Instead, not only did he survive personal upheavals and change, he prevailed and achieved remarkable levels of success, thanks to his own intellect and hard-won mastery of challenging silos of technology – a PhD in Electrical Engineering (despite an early less-than-satisfying soiree into Physics at the insistence of his strong-willed father).

Now Vlach the Younger is facing a difficult challenge, honoring the father whose story is larger than life, without losing sight of the fact that the life of the son is also a one of remarkable courage. We should all be so lucky to face such a dilemma.

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The Celebration of Life, scheduled for 1pm Eastern Time on Saturday, March 14, will be streamed live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/sleepyguy22.

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Vlach the Elder …

Dr. Jiri Vlach’s research helped lay the foundation of the surge in electronic innovations over the last 50 years. The many engineering students whom he advised and mentored applied their knowledge to develop the numerous electronic applications that have become essential components of our lives.

Dipl. Ing. Jiri Vlach CSc, Docent, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on October 5, 1922. His mother died while he was still a child and his father, a teacher, instilled in him the value of education and rational thought. During the German occupation, Czech citizens were not allowed to study at the university level. Instead he studied electrical engineering in an alternate 2 year program. At its completion he was sent to work at the Junkers aircraft company in Prague. Always eager to learn, he used this time to teach himself German and Russian. He graduated in 1947 with a Diploma in Engineering from the Czech Technical University, the first of his family to obtain a university degree. He earned his PhD in Electrical Engineering (CSc) while working at Tesla and VUST (Vyzkumny Ustav pro Sdelovaci Techniku). Meanwhile he also learned English and in 1966 he went to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (USA) as a visiting professor.

This position was extended from the original 2 years after the 1968 Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia and his wife Dagmar and son Martin were able to join him.

Dr. Vlach received many awards during his long and distinguished career: he became an IEEE Fellow in 1982, was bestowed the IEEE CAS Golden Jubilee Medal (1999). He is a founding member of the CANDE Workshop of the CAS IEEE Society. He was a visiting professor at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland (in 1975 and in1982). He also taught twice a semester at PUC-Rio, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He was a guest lecturer at universities throughout the world and a prolific publisher of academic papers. He wrote several books and his widely used text Computer Methods for Circuit Analysis and Design was translated into Russian and Farsi (language of Iran). Another of his books, Linear Circuit Theory – Matrices in Computer Applications, was published in February 2014.

Throughout his life Dr. Vlach was an avid tennis player and a swimmer. He loved canoeing, whether on his beloved Vltava or on the numerous Ontario rivers. He took extensive bicycling trips throughout Europe into his 90s.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating Lives: Martin Vlach & Jiri Vlach”

  1. Eric Cigan says:

    Thank you, Peggy, for a very nice article about the Vlachs. I never met Professor Vlach but enjoyed using his text “Computer Methods for Circuit Analysis and Design.” I did have the pleasure of working with Martin during my time at Analogy and look back fondly on that time. I’m glad to see Martin honored, and it is a credit to him to have conducted this event on behalf of his father.
    –Eric Cigan

  2. Deepak Joshi says:

    Thanks for the article Peggy. It is really a inspiring life story. It would be great if a biography of Jiri Vlach can be prepared with the help of Martin Vlach. Thanks .

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