An Interview with Paul Penfield Jr.


Biographical Note


Professor Paul Penfield Jr. was one of the first and most prolific authors of articles on the just emerging transistor technology of the 1950s.  These classic articles were published in such widely read electronics magazines of the day as Radio-TV News, Radio-Electronics, Audio and Audiocraft. If you were an electronics experimenter, engineer, or hobbyist in the 1950s, and were eager to learn about transistors and actually build a construction project using these newly invented devices, it’s likely you read one of Paul’s pioneering articles.  Beginning in 1954, and continuing through 1958, Paul had more than 70 articles on transistors published in electronics industry publications. This four year period represented a rapidly changing time in transistor technology, and Paul’s well written articles provided a readable and interesting account of these developments. 


After earning his Sc.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1960, Paul was no longer involved in writing transistor related articles for the popular electronics press.  In the past four decades, he has been associated with MIT in a variety of roles, including Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.


This Oral History will discuss Paul’s classic transistor articles from the 1950s.



Penfield Historic Audio Recordings



Oral History – Paul Penfield Jr.


This Oral History is excerpted from an interview conducted in August, 2003.


Paul, before we discuss your transistor articles from the 1950s, would you please provide a few highlights of your career?


After completing my undergraduate work at Amherst College in Physics, I moved on to MIT, first as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student, preparatory to getting my doctorate in 1960.  I was there for five years, from 1955 to 1960, and my doctorate was in Electrical Engineering.  It was during this period (as an undergraduate and graduate student) that I wrote the transistor articles.  I joined the MIT faculty after graduating in 1960, but really was not involved with transistors after that time.  I did a lot of work with variable capacitance diodes and in 1962 co-authored a book, “Varactor Applications”, on this topic.  I continued on at MIT, but my interests shifted away from semiconductors into electrodynamics, computer languages and other areas.  I became Associate Dept Head in the 1970s.  Next I headed up the MIT VLSI program for 10 years in the 1980s and then I was the Department Head (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) from 1989 until I stepped down in 1999.   Since then I have continued to be affiliated with MIT and the department.



Go To Penfield Oral History, Page 2




COPYRIGHT © 2003 by Jack Ward.  All Rights Reserved.