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Obituary
Donald Pederson

19 January 2005


Donald Pederson (Karen Pederson photo)

Donald O. Pederson, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer sciences, whose vision laid the groundwork for advances in the design of the complex integrated circuits that drive modern electronic devices, has died. He was 79.

Pederson died Dec. 25, 2004, at the Stonebrook Healthcare Center in Concord of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Pederson is perhaps best known in the field of electronic design automation for spearheading the development of a groundbreaking integrated-circuit computer-simulation program called SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis) more than three decades ago. The program allows engineers to analyze and design complex electronic circuitry with speed and accuracy. The program dramatically improved the design of integrated circuits, to the extent that virtually every electronic chip developed anywhere in the world today uses SPICE or one of its derivatives at critical stages during its design.

“It’s not widely recognized, yet SPICE really was the first significant open-source program,” notes A. Richard Newton, professor and dean of the College of Engineering (COE). “Since its development in the late 1960s, SPICE has been made available free of charge to any chip designer. The only request made was that if they found a bug in the program, or if they added a new feature, they should send it back to Berkeley so we could make it available to all the other users. Don also requested that they acknowledge in any publication that SPICE was developed at Berkeley.”

Pederson was born Sept. 30, 1925, in Hallock, Minn. Following military service in WW II he earned his B.S. in electrical engineering at North Dakota Agricultural College in 1948 and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University in 1949 and 1951, respectively, staying on as a researcher in the university’s electronics research lab. From 1953 to 1955 he worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories, in Murray Hill, N.J., and also lectured at Newark College of Engineering.

In 1955, Pederson joined the Berkeley faculty as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. His tenure here included stints as director of the campus’s Electronics Research Laboratory and vice chair and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. He retired in 1991 but continued to teach part-time.

“Almost everything Don ever did was the first in the world,” said Newton. “He was instrumental in establishing the first integrated-circuit fabrication facility at Berkeley in the early 1960s. It was the first fabrication facility to be established at any university, and he established it at a time when his peers in industry stated publicly that such an endeavor was impossible.”

At the time, fabrication labs were left in the hands of industry, which would invest millions of dollars in such facilities. Pederson worked to garner funding and grants to get a facility established at Berkeley for less than $300,000. His efforts enabled students to have direct experience working with new integrated-circuit technology and keep on the cutting edge of research in the field.

Pederson was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences in 1982 and the National Academy of Engineering in 1974. He received numerous other honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellowship in 1988, the Berkeley Citation in 1991, and the Medal of Honor Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1998. He also received an honorary doctorate from Katholieke Universiteit Leuvan in Belgium.

In 2001 the campus dedicated the Donald O. Pederson Center for Electronic Systems Design in honor of his contributions to computer-aided design of microelectronic systems.

Pederson is survived by his wife of 27 years, Karen Pederson of Walnut Creek; four children from his first marriage to Claire Nunan — a son, John Pederson of Novato; daughters Katharine Rookard of Patterson, Margaret Stanfield of Sacramento, and Emily Sanders of San Francisco — and four grandsons, all in California.

A public commemorative service will be held on Sunday, Feb. 6, on campus. For information, contact Karl Leonard in the College of Engineering, 642-2487.

The family suggests that donations be made to the Donald O. Pederson Scholarship Fund, c/o the Berkeley Engineering Fund, 208 McLaughlin Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-1722.
— Sarah Yang