George Heilmeier, who as a young scientist led the team that created liquid crystal displays, paving the way for flat-panel displays for computers and television sets, has died. He was 77.
He died of a stroke April 21 at the Medical Center of Plano, Texas, according to his daughter, Beth Jarvie.
Heilmeier ran leading-edge technology programs at Dallas-based
LCDs, first popularized in wristwatches and calculators, are his most tangible legacy.
At a 1968 news conference at
Long known to chemists, liquid crystals are fluid compounds that display optical qualities like solid crystals. There were few uses before RCA scientists began to investigate them in the early 1960s.
The researchers discovered that electricity could change the liquid crystals' reflective qualities from clear to dark, and over a several-year period, led by Heilmeier, turned this insight into usable technology.
The displays became widespread in the 1970s with early applications including gasoline pump meters and reduced-glare auto rearview mirrors. Technological leadership eventually passed from RCA to other U.S. companies and then to Japan.
"They're cleaning our clock," Heilmeier said of Japan's dominance of the liquid crystal display industry he had pioneered, according to a 1991 article in the New York Times. In 2005, he received the Kyoto Prize in advanced technology for his LCD research.
George Harry Heilmeier was born on May 22, 1936, in
Heilmeier received a scholarship to the
In 1970, he became a
In 1975, Heilmeier became director of the
Heilmeier returned to private industry in 1977 to join Texas Instruments. In 1991, a senior vice president and chief technical officer, he departed for Bellcore to become chief executive.
As an advisor in the Clinton administration, Heilmeier was an influential voice in setting priorities for the development of the Internet, then referred to as the "Information Superhighway."
Among high-tech researchers he was known as the progenitor of "Heilmeier's Catechism," a set of questions to clarify the potential of a project, including "What are you trying to do?" and "Who cares?"
Deeply religious, according to his daughter, Heilmeier was fond of quoting Scripture in scientific presentations. But he displayed a lighter side as well, such as when he allowed himself to be introduced at a 1989 technology conference as the man "with so much brainpower, he has to register it as excess baggage."
In 1991, President
Heilmeier, who retired from Bellcore as chairman and chief executive in 1997, held 15 patents.
In addition to his daughter, Heilmeier's survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Janet Faunce, and three grandchildren.
Miller writes for Bloomberg News.