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B E RNARD M . O LIVE R 1916-1995 BY DAVID PACKARD BERNARD M. OLIVER, Silicon Valley pioneer and director of research and development at Hewlett-Packard for four decades, died on November 23, 1995. He was seventy-nine years old. Dr. Oliver, known to his friends and family as "Barney," a man of enormous intellect, curiosity, and vision. He leaves behind a legacy of extraordinary contributions in the field of electronics, radio engineering, physics, astronomy, computer science, and biology. Born in Soquel, California, Barney studied electrical engineering at Stanford University, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1935 at the age of nineteen. Two of his fellow students were William Hewlett and David Packard, both of whom were impressed by their precocious classmate. The following year Barney earned an M.S. degree from the California Institute of Technology. He then spent a year studying in Germany on an exchange scholarship, returning to Caltech to complete his Ph.D., magna cum laude, in 1940. He was twenty-four years old. Barney then joined the renowned Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, where he quickly established a reputation for brilliant, creative insights and clever inventions. He made major contributions to the development of the new and all-important "radar," and was a key contributor to the earliest television systems. His paper on pulse code modulation, 167
168 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES "Philosophy of PCM," remains a seminal work to this clay. While at Bell Labs, he met and married a young actress named Priscilla Newton, who was to share his life until she cried in 1994. They hac! three chilclren: Karen, Gretchen, and William Eric. While Barney was making his mark at Bell Labs, William Hewlett anct Davic! Packard were starting a new electronics instrumentation firm in Palo Alto, California. They decicled that Barney was the person they needed to leas! their research efforts. After many discussions en cl increasingly attractive of- fers, they persuacled Barney to join their fleclgling operation. In 1952 Barney returned to his belovecl California to become director of research for the Hewlett-Packarc! Company. A hands-on clirector, Barney immediately set the standarcis for excellence that have become Hewlett-Packarcl's hallmark. In 1957 he became vice-presicient of research and development, and in 1966 he established Hewlett-PackarcI Laboratories (HP), the company's central research and development organization, which he directec! until his retirement in 1981. Uncler Barney's leadership HP Labs quickly became one of the worId's foremost research and development organizations as well as the birthplace of many of HP's successful products, including the HP2116, HP's first computer; the HP9100 desktop scientific calculator; en c! the HP35, the first scientific hanc3-helc3 calculator. Barney also served on the Hewlett-PackarcI boars! of directors from 1973 until 1981. While at HP, Barney continued to pursue a lifelong interest in radio astronomy. His background in radio engineering prompted an interest in radio astronomy and the possibility that radio telescopes might be a means to detect extraterrestrial intelligent life. He was fascinated when, in 1960, attempts were made to detect radio waves from other civilizations. He had already calculated that such a search, with existing telescopes, made sense. He visited this first search at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, but it was not until 1971 that he was able to immerse himself fully in this endeavor. Taking time off from HP, Barney guided a major feasibility study of possible radio telescope systems for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), sponsored by Stanford University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center.
BERNARD M. OLIVER 169 This effort spawned "Project Cyclops," a seminal and gran- diose plan for a radio telescope system capable of detecting quite ordinary extraterrestrial radio signals from great distanc- es in our galaxy. Although the design was very sound and the report a monument to fine scientific and technical writing, the projected ultimate cost of the project, some tens of bil- lions of dollars, far exceeded what was politically acceptable. The report stands to this day as a sound description of an ingenious and noble albeit unfulfilled enterprise. Barney retained a close relationship to SETT throughout the rest of his life. He made numerous contributions to the scientific and technical design of SETI searches and systems. Following his retirement from HP, Barney devoted his ener- gies full-time to SETI, serving as director of the NASA Ames SET} office from 19S3 to 1993. During this period SETI be- came a major project within NASA with an overall budget of more than $100 million. This project reached a milestone in the fall of 1992 when its extremely sophisticated radio receiv- ing equipment started searching the extraterrestrial radio signals at both the Goldstone tracking station of NASA and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress cut off funding for this project just one year after the searching began. Some ten years earlier, Barney had been a prime mover in the formulation of the SET! Institute, a not-for-profit scientif- ic institute that was formed to conduct research related to life in the universe with maximum efficiency and at the lowest possible cost. Disdaining bureaucracy and waste, Barney saw the SETI Institute as an experiment that would demonstrate that the highest research could be done with minimal man agement and overhead cost. Upon his retirement from NASA in Januar,v 1994, he joined the board of directors of the insti- tute. Over the decade since its inception, the institute has become an extremely successful research center, just as Bar- ney imagined and planned it would. His last act for the institute was to provide it with a major bequest to ensure its continued activity and success for a very long time.
170 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES Barney received a host of awards during his life, foremost of which was the National Mecial of Science, which he received at the White House in 1986. He served as vice-presiclent (1962) en cl president (1965) of the Institute of Electrical and Elec- tronics :Engineers (lEEE), after being made a fellow of its predecessor organization, the Institute of Raclio Engineers, in 1954 and director-at-large in 1958. In 1966 he was appointed to the Presiclent's Commission on the Patent System. In 1990 he received both NASA's Medal for Exceptional Engineering Achievement and the Pioneer Award of the International Foundation for Telemetering in recognition of a lifetime of service to the telecommunications profession. Other significant honors include the Caltech Distinguishecl Alumnus Award for 1972; IEEE's Lamme Medal for meritori- ous achievement in the development of electronic instrumentation and measuring devices, 1977; the Halley Lec- tureship on Astronomy and Terrestrial Magnetism of Oxford University, 1984; and the Harvey Mudd College Wright Prize for Multidisciplinary Scientific or Engineering Accomplish- ments, 1984. He was an adjunct professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and served on the boards of directors of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Geostar Cor- poration, en c! Associated Universities, Inc. He was a founder of the Biosys Corporation, which seeks environmentally sound means to eliminate agricultural pests. Barney was awarded some fifty patents, with some pending, and he authored some seventy-one publications in more than seven scientific and technical fields. In 1991 Hewlett-Packarc! Laboratories established the Bernard M. Oliver Symposium on the Future, an annual clistinguished lecture series in his honor. He receiver! the NASA Group Achievement Award for the NASA SETI project in 1993. Barney also generously donated his time in the service of education and the community. He server! on the Palo Alto Unified School District Board from 1961 to 1971 and was a member of the engineering advisory councils at both Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. He was appointed for ten years as a consultant on the engineering and safe to of
BERNARD M. OLIVER 171 the new San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) System. He served as a consultant to the Army Scientific Advisory Pane] and a member of the Congressional Review Committee for the National Bureau of Standards. Just before his death, Barney was an active member of the Dean's Advisory Council for Natural Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was a generous donor to causes he felt were important, although he never sought public recognition for his philanthropy. He made major contributions to the universities he had attended, as well as to the Universities of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz. At Santa Cruz he endowec! a scholarship fund in theater arts in honor of his wife, Priscilla Newton. He contributed to many educational enterprises, including contributions of computers and associated equipment to micIdIe schools. Barney especially liked to support scientific enterprises he deemed worthy but, in some cases, neglected, especially if they might contribute to understanding and discovery of life in the universe. He made major contributions to the Exploratorium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, en cl the San Francisco State Uni- versit,v/Marine World Dolphin Communications Project. Among his largest gifts was one to the Allegheny Observatory at the University of Pittsburgh to allow the upgrading of the lens of its largest telescope, which was being used to search for extrasolar planetary systems. Another was a $200,000 challenge grant to the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA), which used the funds to build a high-quality observa- tory at Chew's Ridge, near Carmel, which was named the "Oliver Station" in honor of Barney. Barney was widely known and admired for his strong com- munications skills, a trait Barney attributed to his mother, a teacher who instiller! in him at an early age a reverence for proper grammar. As a result, his scientific papers were models of clarity, his conversations terse and to the point. In short, he believecl that clear, concise communication was important to success, whether the communication be with humans, dol- phins, or people of other stars. As one final bequest to
172 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES humanity, just before he cried Barney finished the manuscript of a book detailing the fine points of English grammar and why they in fact ensure clarity in communication. Barney Oliver's cornucopia of intellectual en cl practical gifts to the world, as well as his personal example, will continue to enrich us far into the future.