Electronic Design
Image courtesy of Thinkstock

(Image courtesy of Thinkstock).

The Engineering Greats We Lost in 2016

With the deaths of celebrities ranging from David Bowie and Prince to Carrie Fisher to Muhammad Ali, 2016 will be remembered as a year the world lost no small number of its greats. Closer to home, 2016 also saw the loss of several engineering luminaries.

Thomas Johnstone McWiggan

Died: 1/2/16

McWiggan was a British engineer who focused his career on radar, navigation, and communication engineering.  Among his chief contributions to the field was a post as an officer of the IEEE Professional Technical Group on Aerospace and Navigational Electronics.  He advocated for the adoption of the UK Microwave Landing System (DMLS) over the American TRSB.

Wesley Allison Clark

Died: 2/22/16

Clark was an American physicist and computer designer who worked with Charles Molnar in the creation of the first minicomputer, the LINC, which served as an inspiration for the first personal computer. He received the Eckert-Mauchly Award for his work on computer architecture, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and was an original recipient of the IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award.

David Needle

Died: 2/20/16

Needle was one of the key engineers and architects in the creation of the Amiga 1000 computer. Additionally, he co-invented the Atari Lync, along with the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, which led to revolutionary changes in gaming consoles.

Edward J. McCluskey

Died: 2/13/16

McCluskey worked with switches for Bell Telephone Laboratories before landing at Princeton University, followed by a stint at Stanford University as emeritus professor of electrical engineering and computer science. He was the first president of the IEEE Computer Society. His research focused on logic network theory, sequential circuits, and testing, among other topics. He was the recipient of the IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award, the IEEE John von Neumann Medal, and was an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Leonard L. Northrup Jr.

Died: 3/24/16

Northrup was a pivotal figure in the commercialization of solar thermal energy. His firm designed, developed, and manufactured early technologies in solar water heaters, solar concentrators, solar-powered air conditioning systems, and photovoltaic thermal systems. Northrup has 14 U.S. patents to his name.

Solomon W. Golomb

Died: 5/30/16

Golomb was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Science. He won accolades for his work on information theory and information systems, as well as his ability to develop new applications of advanced mathematics to solve digital communications problems. With an IQ of 176, this genius was a pioneer in the field of space communications, missile guidance, cellular communications, radar, sonar, and GPS.

Rudolf E. Kalman

Died: 7/2/16

Kalman was a Hungarian-born American electrical engineer who co-invented the Kalman filter, an algorithm used widely in signal processing, control systems, and navigation. A researcher at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies, his theories were at first met with skepticism, but later developed into standard filtering practice celebrated and utilized by the world’s space programs.

Joe Sutter

Died: 8/30/2016

Sutter was an American engineer widely credited as the father of the Boeing 747. Sutter had served as an advisor to Boeing and participated in the Rogers Commission investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Erich Bloch

Died: 11/25/16

Block was a German-American electrical engineer. He helped to develop IBM’s first transistorized supercomputer, the 7030 Stretch, in addition to its mainframe supercomputer, the System/360. Bloch served as the director of the National Science Foundation and won numerous awards and merits for his contribution to engineering—especially those related to the development of the IBM System/360.

Jay Wright Forrester

Died: 7/16/16

Forrester was an American computer engineer and systems scientist. His work led him to lay the foundations of system dynamics—a simulation of the interactions of objects in dynamic systems. His first book, Industrial Dynamics, focused on his work in this field. Some even claim that Forrester’s animation of a jumping ball on an oscilloscope was the first computer graphics animation.

Correction: December 30th, 2016. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when Joe Sutter, an American engineer that managed the design team behind the Boeing 747, died. He passed on August 30th, 2016, not March 21, 1921, which was his birth date.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.