Hall of Fame
Henry C. Pao
After earning his master's degree, Henry C. Pao started his career with IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he worked on converting some of the systems using vacuum tubes to transistors and taught transistor theory to IBM colleagues. In 1962, he returned to Illinois to begin graduate work with John Bardeen, focusing on metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) device physics and modeling. His thesis research was published in Solid State Electronics in 1966, and is now known as the Pao&Sah Design Model. Although considered too complex to use in 1966, the Pao&Sah Model is widely studied and used today for integrated circuit (IC) design and simulation.
Pao taught at Illinois for one year before joining the Sperry Rand Research Center in Boston in 1966 to work on nonvolatile memory behavior of metal-nitride-oxide-semiconductor (MNOS) devices. His research, published in the Applied Physics Letters in 1968, is now known as EEPROM, or electrically erasable programmable read only memory, commonly used in digital cameras. In 1969, he went to work for his former IBM manager, who had joined Raytheon Missile System Division, to design a compact 2 MIPS (million instructions per second) onboard computer for the guidance system of a surface-to-air missile (later named the Patriot) and to develop the then-state-of-the-art gate array technology. In 1973, he joined a research team at Fairchild Semiconductor Research Center in Palo Alto to help develop charge couple devices (CCDs) used in line imagers for fax machines and area imagers for digital cameras.
In 1976, he cofounded Supertex, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. He has served as its President and CEO and as a member of the Board of Directors since the company's inception. With guidance from Professor John Bardeen, who sat on his board, Pao and his colleagues pioneered high-voltage complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor integrated circuits (CMOS ICs) ranging from 30 volts to 700 volts. Among their first products were high voltage ICs for asynchronous motor control in pumps and hybrid cars, for medical ultrasound imaging, for optical telecommunications, and for plasma and other flat-panel displays. More recently, they pioneered high-voltage driver ICs to drive light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for general lighting and for backlighting liquid crystal display monitors and televisions. Most, if not all, of his company's products have been the best in their class. Pao, at 74, refuses to retire and is working to design the best, low-cost LED light bulbs and tubes.
Pao attributes some of his success to his education at Illinois and to the mentoring he received from Professor Bardeen and Professor Chihtang Sah before and after his graduation. He has supported the endowment fund in honor of Professor Bardeen as well as scholarships for electrical and computer engineering students. His generosity helped the College of Engineering establish a graduate fellowship in honor of his father and establish the Nick Holonyak Jr. Chair Professorship. Among his many awards and honors is the Engineering at Illinois Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.
- BS, Electrical Engineering, 1959
- MS, Electrical Engineering, 1960
- PHD, Electrical Engineering, 1966