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UC Berkeley Press Release

Donald Pederson, pioneer in integrated circuit design, dies at 79

– Donald O. Pederson, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, 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.

Donald O. Pederson
Donald O. Pederson (Photo by Karen Pederson)
Print-quality photo available for download

Pederson died Saturday, Dec. 25, 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. Pederson's colleagues point out that virtually every electronic chip, developed anywhere in the world today, uses SPICE or one of its derivatives at critical stages during its design.

"Before SPICE, we were using slide rules to analyze simple integrated circuits," said Robert S. Pepper, one of Pederson's former Ph.D. students and founding chief executive officer of Level One Communications, which was bought by Intel in 1999. "You could get good results when dealing with a circuit containing up to six transistors, but as systems became more complicated, the slide rule calculations weren't working anymore."

Pepper said engineers needed a computer-aided design program, and that's what SPICE provided. "SPICE got the whole thing going," he said. "Without it, we couldn't have done an analysis on today's circuits, which are composed of millions of transistors."

The program dramatically improved the design of integrated circuits, the electronic brainpower driving a variety of devices, including personal computers, cellular phones, audio and video equipment, microwaves and even some vehicle components. Pederson's colleagues pointed out that SPICE has become so ubiquitous in the electronics design field today that it has become a household word in the industry, so phrases such as "Have you SPICEd the circuit?" are common.

"It's not widely recognized, yet SPICE really was the first significant open-source program," added A. Richard Newton, professor and dean of UC Berkeley's College of Engineering. "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 UC 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 UC Berkeley."

David Hodges, one of Pederson's first Ph.D. students at UC Berkeley, and other colleagues noted that Pederson never profited from the SPICE program.

"He was really always out in front as far as being a collaborative person," said Hodges, professor and dean emeritus at UC Berkeley's College of Engineering. "He believed in being open with ideas and learning from others. He knew that in order for SPICE to be successful, people outside the university would need to use it, and the way to get them to do that would be to make the source code available to them. He didn't come up with the term open source, but he practiced it."

Pederson was born Sept. 30, 1925 in Hallock, Minn. Pederson entered Iowa State College in fall 1943, but then left for the military during World War II. He served in Germany as a private in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946.

Upon his return, he continued his undergraduate education at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) where he earned his B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1948. He received his master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1949 and 1951, respectively.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford, Pederson stayed on as a researcher in the university's electronics research lab. From 1953 to 1955, he worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and also lectured at Newark College of Engineering.

In 1955, Pederson joined the faculty of UC Berkeley as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. His tenure at UC Berkeley included stints as director of the campus's Electronics Research Laboratory and as 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 Pederson ever did was the first in the world," said Newton. "Don was instrumental in establishing the first integrated circuit fabrication facility at UC 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 UC Berkeley for less than $300,000. His efforts enabled students at UC Berkeley to have direct experience working with new integrated circuit technology and keep on the cutting edge of research in the field.

"Talk to anyone who has had the experience of working with Don Pederson, and he or she will say it was a life-changing experience," said Newton, who was recruited from Australia to UC Berkeley by Pederson nearly 30 years ago.

"The real legacy that Don has left us is all the people he has influenced during his career through his mentoring, his vision, and the example he set for us all," said Newton.

Pederson was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences in 1982 and the National Academy of Engineering in 1974. He garnered numerous other honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellowship in 1988, a Berkeley Citation in 1991, a Phil Kaufman Award from the Electronic Design Automation Consortium in 1995 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, UC Berkeley 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 -- 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 is being planned later this semester at UC Berkeley. Information regarding the service will be posted online at http://www.coe.berkeley.edu when available.

In lieu of flowers, 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.