Donald Pederson | Nice Alumni Series

Electrical Engineer | Class of 1948

Born: Hallock, Minnesota

The design of electronic chips that power today’s cell phones, computers, and robotics were built on a foundation laid by Donald Pederson. He developed the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE), one of the most important tools in electrical engineering of the last 50 years. But before he created groundbreaking technologies, Pederson held a weekend job repairing motors at Fargo Electric Motor Company.

His interest in electronics was nurtured by a high school physics class, which motivated him to join an army training program in engineering. But the program was short-lived—he and his fellow would-be engineers were called up to the infantry during World War II. As a private in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 he saw combat in Germany, France, and Austria before ending his tour in the Philippines at the conclusion of the war.

Never wait for approval, don’t tell anyone you are doing something, just do it.

Pederson returned to Fargo to complete his B.S. in Electrical Engineering at NDSU in record fashion. His first half semester of college found him to be a C student but he adjusted his priorities, maintaining study sessions six days a week, which earned him a bachelor’s in just two years and one term.

Pederson then attended graduate school at Stanford University at a time when the campus was  buzzing with technological innovations. William Hewlett (of Hewlett-Packard fame) had just discovered the distributed amplifier, a broadband amplifier used in high-frequency systems. By 1951 Pederson had earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering.

Pederson then joined the faculty of UC Berkeley in 1955 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. His tenure would last until his retirement in 1991. During that time he did what many said was impossible: established an integrated circuit fabrication facility on the university’s campus. It was the first of its kind at any university.

Pederson’s work gave students direct experience with new integrated circuit technology, placing them at the cutting edge of research in the field. Using SPICE allowed engineers to simulate the behavior of circuits quickly and easily, resulting in lower production costs. The SPICE simulation also enabled a feedback loop that led to faster computer processing. This feedback effect continues today!

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Credits: Story by Scott Meyer & Dane Johnson / Illustration by Izak Moleterno

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Posted on November 18th, 2020 by Dane Johnson in News and Stories