Don Pederson: Creator of SPICE

Berkeley Engineering 150Integrated circuits — now generally known as microchips — have transformed the world of electronics. When they were invented in 1959, Don Pederson was a professor in UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department. Knowing that this invention could lead to dramatic reductions in the size and cost of electronics, he decided to devote his research to integrated circuits and teach his students to design them. There was only one problem: UC Berkeley didn’t have a semiconductor fabrication facility on campus.

Don PedersonDon Pederson, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of electrical engineering.  (Image courtesy the Pederson family)So Pederson, his colleagues and a group of graduate students lobbied for and designed a facility. Their efforts paid-off in 1962 when the Microfabrication Facility opened in Cory Hall, and the first working circuit on 3/4-inch-diameter silicon wafer was unveiled. This was the first microfabrication facility ever built at a university, and g students working there became leaders in the semiconductor industry.

In the mid-1960s, Pederson also predicted that the computer would play an important role in the design and analysis of integrated circuits. A decade of research, involving many undergrads and graduate students, resulted in an integrated circuit computer simulation program called SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis). This program allows computer engineers to analyze and design complex electronic circuitry quickly and accurately. Today, every electronic chip manufacturer uses SPICE or one of its derivatives during critical stages of design.

SPICE was also one of the first open-source computer programs. Pederson allowed free use of SPICE, as long as users sent a copy of any bug fixes or improvements back to Berkeley so that all users could benefit. This policy accelerated the advancement of SPICE and allowed it to be enhanced with new features.

For his accomplishments, Pederson was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. He also earned numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers also named one of its major awards in his honor, the IEEE Donald O. Pederson Award in Solid-State Circuits.

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