Carver Mead

2022 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Advanced Technology

Electronics

Carver Mead

/  Electronics Engineer and Applied Physicist

1934 -

Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, California Institute of Technology

Achievement Digest

Leading Contributions to the Establishment of the Guiding Principles for VLSI Systems Design

Carver Mead proposed and promoted a new methodology to divide the increasingly complicated design process of very large-scale integration (VLSI) systems into logic, circuit, and layout designs, and to separate them from the manufacturing process. He also contributed greatly to the advancement of computer-aided design technology and paved the way to the electronic design automation of VLSIs that led to the immense development of VLSI-based electronics and industry.

Achievement

In the early stages of VLSI (very large-scale integration) development, Carver Mead paid attention to the increasing complexity of its design and manufacturing processes. He proposed a new methodology to divide the design process into three stages, namely, logic, circuit, and layout designs, and to separate them from the manufacturing process. By employing computer-aided design (CAD) technology in each stage of the design process, he helped establish the basic framework for VLSI design, facilitated the separation of system design from device fabrication, and thus enabled efficient synergies between the two. Consequently, he laid the foundation for intercorporate/international division of roles in VLSI design and fabrication, and contributed greatly to the development of VLSI-based electronics technology and industry.

In the late 1970s, it was predicted that advances in miniaturization of devices in integrated circuits (ICs) would enable the realization of VLSI systems comprising billions of transistors (1). Mead revised radically the design process for increasingly complex VLSI systems, and proposed a method to simplify and standardize the process of layout design which had previously varied among manufacturers. He also developed CAD technology for VLSI systems, and enabled the separation of the design process, including the logic and circuit design stages, from the manufacturing process (2). This achievement paved the way for electronic design automation that covered a text-based description of the system operation and the automatic generation of the layout required for chip manufacturing. Thus, he established the guiding principles for VLSI system design involving billions of transistors on a single chip.

The book entitled Introduction to VLSI Systems (3), co-authored with Lynn Conway, provided a clear methodology (4) for system designers to perform VLSI design without knowledge of complicated manufacturing processes. It allowed many engineers and students to participate in VLSI design, prototype fabrication, and testing, and thus contributed considerably to the subsequent progress of VLSI. In particular, this book proposed and disseminated the multi-project chip concept that enabled the prototyping of chips at a reasonable cost by fabricating multiple, individually designed IC systems on a single wafer. All these accomplishments contributed enormously to the acceleration of education, research, and development which involved ICs, LSIs and VLSIs.

Mead also predicted that the large part of the VLSI industry would be divided into many design companies (fabless) and a far-smaller number of specialized manufacturers (fabs). This prediction laid the foundation for the complementary division of tasks and roles among various corporates (5). It is safe to say that the semiconductor industry centered on VLSI would not have existed without these contributions. VLSI has been incorporated into a variety of industrial products, including home appliances, vehicles, mobile phones, and computers. It is no exaggeration to state that these contributions have ushered in our current information-based society.

References
(1) Sutherland IE & Mead CA (1977) Microelectronics and Computer Science. Scientific American 237: 210–229.
(2) Mead CA (1979) VLSI and Technological Innovation. In Proceedings of the Caltech Conference on Very Large Scale Integration, California Institute of Technology: 15–27.
(3) Mead C & Conway L (1980) Introduction to VLSI Systems. Addison-Wesley.
(4) Mead CA & Lewicki G (1982) Silicon compilers and foundries will usher in user-designed VLSI. Electronics 55: 107–111.
(5) Casale-Rossi M et al. (2013) Panel: The heritage of Mead & Conway What has remained the same, what was missed, what has changed, what lies ahead. In Design, Automation & Test in Europe Conference & Exhibition (DATE), IEEE: 171–175.

Profile

Biography
1934
Born in Bakersfield, California, U.S.A.
1959–1962
Assistant Professor, California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
1960
Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Caltech
1962–1967
Associate Professor, Caltech
1967–1977
Professor, Caltech
1977–1980
Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Caltech
1980–1992
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computer Science, Caltech
1992–1999
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Caltech
1999–
Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, Caltech
Selected Awards and Honors
1971
Thomas D. Callinan Award, Electrochemical Society
1981
Achievement Award (with Lynn Conway), Electronics Magazine
1984
IEEE Centennial Medal
1984
Harold Pender Award (with Lynn Conway), University of Pennsylvania
1985
AFIPS Harry H. Goode Memorial Award
1985
John Price Wetherill Medal (with Lynn Conway), Franklin Institute
1987
Honorary Doctorate, Lund University
1985
Walter B. Wriston Public Policy Award, Hudson Institute
1991
Honorary Degree, Doctor of Science, University of Southern California
1996
IEEE John Von Neumann Medal
1997
ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award
1999
Lemelson-MIT Prize
2001
Dickson Prize in Science, Carnegie Mellon University
2002
National Medal of Technology and Innovation
2003
Simon Ramo Founders Award, National Academy of Engineering
2009
National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee
2011
BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Information and Communication Technologies
Memberships
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Physical Society, Franklin Institute, IEEE, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Inventors, National Academy of Sciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences

Profile is at the time of the award.