Alumni Stories: Technology Visionary

Richard Newton attended Elwood High 1965-1968. He was a brilliant electronic engineer who completed a Bachelor of Engineering and a Masters of Engineering Science at the University of Melbourne, and went on to carry out research at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Engineering. He became Dean there in 2000 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2007. He was internationally renowned as a pioneer in electronic design automation and integrated circuit design, and a visionary leader in the technology industry.

His friend and fellow Elwood High student John Zeleznikow remembers Richard as someone who stood out both intellectually and physically. 

“Among the children of WWII refugees, who were primarily small and slight of build, he was a colossus.  He was naturally the school AFL ruckman and head prefect.  And he always had a girlfriend!

As one of the few Anglos in the school, he liked white bread and pies. In German class he often complained that the other kids had an advantage because they spoke Yiddish at home. His family, unfortunately, only spoke English.  He claimed descent from the great English physicist and mathematician Sr. Isaac Newton.

Richard was also an outstanding scholar; but unlike with his sporting prowess, he had competition in this domain. He majored in sciences, and did very well at Matriculation.  However he was not the school dux in 1968. That privilege was won by Tom Winter.

It was at University that Richard excelled. His ground-breaking research has led to the development of today’s super-computers. And he remained competitive. When I last met him in 2000, he asked me “How come you are not a professor yet?”. I became one two years later but this statement reinforced to me how driven Richard was.”

In a Berkeley University press release on January 7, 2007 Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said: "Rich Newton was a man of incomparable vision. Dynamic and entrepreneurial, he understood the power of engineering and technology in entirely new ways, and he connected them to addressing society's toughest problems. The vibrancy of his thinking shaped my own ideas about what engineering is and what it can be. This is an enormous loss for us at UC Berkeley, for California, and indeed for the international engineering community."

In the early 1970s, Newton met Donald Pederson, UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and this meeting led to Newton's lifelong interest in electronic design automation (EDA). Pederson spearheaded the development of SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis), “a computer simulation program that enables engineers to analyse and design complex electronic circuitry with speed and accuracy. At critical stages during its design process, virtually every electronic chip developed in the world today uses SPICE or one of its derivatives”.

Newton earned numerous awards throughout his career, including the 2003 Phil Kaufman Award, the highest recognition given for research and entrepreneurial contributions to the EDA industry.

From 1998 to 2002, Newton served as the founding director of the MARCO/DARPA Gigascale Silicon Research Center (GSRC), a major private-public partnership with the US government and the semiconductor industry which funds and coordinates long-range research at other major US universities.

He advised several venture capital firms and, according to Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, “He had an unmatched capability of marrying technical insights with industrial needs”.

Newton was well known for working to apply engineering technology to challenging social problems, close to home in California, as well as in developing countries.

After his death in 2007, Microsoft announced an academic award program for new, innovative applications of information technology in honour of Newton’s ideal.

He had been on the Microsoft Research Technical Advisory Board for many years.

Other awards and graduate scholarships have been established in his name in the field of automated electronic design and, in recognition of his work in encouraging women in technology, this included an Educator award to recognise innovative teaching practices.

Photo credit: Bart Nagel

References

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/06/business/06newton.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Richard_Newton

http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/01/04_newton.shtml