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DRAM inventor logs off

by on20 May 2024

Dennard was 91

Robert Heath Dennard, the trailblazing electrical and computer engineer who invented DRAM, has died at the age of 91.

Dennard groundbreaking invention paved the way for the creation of billions of smartphones, computers, and various consumer electronics. His legacy also includes the Dennard Scaling theory, which builds upon Moore's Law.

Born on September 5, 1932, in Terrell, Texas, Dennard's early life on a farm without electricity and education in a one-room schoolhouse contrasted sharply with the technological advancements he would later contribute to. A skilled French horn player, he earned a scholarship to Southern Methodist University, diving into the emerging field of electrical engineering.

Post-graduation, Dennard pursued a PhD in electrical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, completing it in 1958. He then embarked on a career at IBM, where he would remain for his professional life.

At a time when integrated circuits were emerging, Dennard focused on advancing computer memory and logic. This led to the development of an alternative to magnetic-core RAM in 1964, which initially used six MOS transistors to store a single bit of information.

Dennard envisioned a more efficient method, leading to his revolutionary idea of storing some information in a single transistor. This innovation culminated in the creation of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM).

In 1972, he proposed a theory to see computers and electronic devices become progressively smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient annually. This concept, known as Dennard scaling or Dennard's law, complemented Moore's law, which posits that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years. Dennard scaling suggested that as transistors get smaller, they also consume less power, enhancing performance per watt at a similar rate.

Dennard's illustrious career spanned over 50 years, during which he garnered numerous accolades. He was named an IBM fellow in 1979, received the US National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan in 1988, was inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1997, and was honoured with the IEEE Medal of Honor in 2009.

In 2019, the Semiconductor Industry Association bestowed Dennard with the most prestigious recognition in the semiconductor industry, the Robert N. Noyce Award.

Dennard is survived by his wife, Jane Bridges, daughters, Amy and Holly Dennard, and four grandchildren. His son, Robert, predeceased him.


Last modified on 20 May 2024
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