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Posted: 10:32:57 AM, 07/12/2012

LCD inventor shook things up at DARPA

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George Heilmeier began his career at RCA's Sarnoff Research Center where he discovered that an applied voltage could change the color of dye-doped liquid crystals in the 1960s. Credited as the inventor of the LCD by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Heilmeier had secured his place in electronic history, alongside other hall-of-famers like Thomas Edison and Steve Wozniak, after working at RCA for only six years.

In the 1970s Heilmeier entered government service as a White House Fellow and special advisor to the Defense Department. Then in 1975 he was appointed Director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. At DARPA he shepherded-in the modern era of high-tech weaponry including stealth aircraft, space-based lasers and smart-bombs using artificial intelligence (AI).???

??? George Heilmeier

George Heilmeier. Heilmeier invented the LCD before becoming Director of DARPA, CTO at Texas Instruments and CEO of Bellcore.??

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One thing few people know about Heilmeier, however, is the waves he made upon taking over DARPA, where he introduced the concept of accountability to an organization that until then had operated as a good-old-boy network. He met entrenched resistance to his accountability efforts from former good-old-boys who told Heilmeier "your job is to get the money to the good people and don't ask any questions," said Heilmeier in a Charles Babbage Institute interview in 1991. Heilmeier pushed back by informing DARPA contractees that no longer were they "going to get a couple million dollars from DARPA just by saying that, 'We're going to go off and do good things'...That era was over. You would get your money based on articulating what you were trying to do and how it was done today and the limitations of current practice...Those were the questions that became known as 'Heilmeier's Catechism'," said Heilmeier. Today Heilmeier's Catechism is used by organizations from venture capitalist to urban planners.

After leaving government service, Heilmeier applied his catechisms to a variety of industries, from Texas Instruments (TI) where he served as chief technology officer in the 1980s, to Bellcore (now Telcordia) where he served as president and chief executive officer in the 1990s.

Today Heilmeier is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Defense Science Board and the National Security Agency Advisory Board. He also serves on the boards of Fidelity Investments, Teletech Holdings and the Board of Overseers of the School of Engineering and Applied Science of the University of Pennsylvania.

A Philadelphia native, Heilmeier earned his EE from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate in solid-state electronics from Princeton University. He holds 15 patents and innumerable awards including the Kyoto Prize, IEEE David Sarnoff Award, two Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service medals, and in 2012 the Charles Stark Draper Prize, which he shared with Wolfgang Helfrich, Martin Schadt and T. Peter Brody who developed his seminal LCD discoveries into the modern active-matrix twisted nematic configuration used today.

Heilmeier's original LCD used a method he called dynamic scattering, which Helfrich and Schadt improved with the twisted nematic field effect which drastically cut LCD power consumption. Brody later invented the active matrix drive circuitry which enabled the faster response times needed to use LCDs for motion video on television.

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