Penn Engineering Overseer George Heilmeier Inducted Into Inventors Hall of Fame

February 12, 2009

A researcher who pioneered the first liquid crystal displays eventually used in computer screens and televisions is among 15 new members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.George Heilmeier, 73, worked on the first liquid crystal displays at RCA Laboratories in Princeton, N.J.

A liquid crystal display, or LCD, is a thin, flat display device that uses a small amount of electric power, making it suitable for use in battery-powered electronic devices. The LCD is one of the reasons laptop computers have been so successful.

"We had a vision that liquid crystal displays would revolutionize the entertainment business," Heilmeier said about the concept developed in the 1960s. "We thought back then that eventually it would lead to flat panel TVs, but integrated circuit technology hadn't made enough progress then."

All of the new inductees, to be announced Wednesday in Washington, D.C., are connected in some way to products based on the development 50 years ago of electronic circuits built on small silicon wafers, leading to many of the things modern society depends on daily, such laptop computers, cell phones, automated banking and theater projectors.

This year's ceremony is planned for May 2 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., in Silicon Valley about 35 miles south of San Francisco.

The Akron-based Inventors Hall was founded in Washington by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations. It has inducted members since 1973 and will have honored 404 inventors with its new class, which includes 10 living and five deceased inventors.

Larry Hornbeck, 66, is being inducted for his work on a digital micromirror device, or DMD, which is an array of extremely small mirrors linked to a silicon chip. The technology works by directing light pulses on the mirrors through a lens for a range of applications from inkjet printer heads to digital movie projectors.

Hornbeck, who still works for Texas Instruments Inc. in Plano, Texas, said projection technology might soon be part of cell phones.

The new class also honors early silicon chip designer Carver Mead; Dov Frohman-Bentchkowsky, for the read-only programmable memory chip, and the late Jean Hoerni, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, who is recognized for a manufacturing process key to modern integrated circuits.

Source: The Chicago Tribune