Worcester Polytechnic Institute

An Electric Century

A Century of High-Voltage Personalities

A. Atwater Kent '00
Atwater Kent never graduated from the Institute. In fact, he never really came close. He enrolled in 1895, but dropped out after one semester. He came back the following year, but found his science and math courses daunting. Before the year was done, he was asked to withdraw and told his future looked dim.

Fortunately, he ignored that prediction. Early in his career, he invented an improved automotive ignition that won him the Franklin Institute's John Scott Legacy Medal. After World War I, he began building radio receivers. The simply designed but expertly crafted radios found a wide audience and by 1929 his company was producing a million receivers a year. The stock market crash of that year nearly destroyed the business, though his company would continue to produce radios until 1936.

Kent was a generous man who donated countless radio receivers to various institutions - including WPI (one of the radios can be found today in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department offices). He also donated the Atwater Kent Museum to Philadelphia and paid for the restoration of the Betsy Ross House. He served as a WPI trustee for several years and received an honorary doctorate from the Institute in 1926. Upon his death in 1949, the university decided to formally attach his name to its electrical engineering building.

Yi Chi Mei '14
Tsinghua University in Beijing is one of China's best known and most distinguished educational institutions; it is also the nation's top engineering school. That status is largely due to the work and philosophy of Yi Chi Mei, who served as president of the university during one of its most challenging periods.

Mei was born in 1889 in Tian Jing, China. In 1909 he passed the first Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Examination and was sent to WPI to study electrical engineering. After earning his bachelor's degree, he returned to China to teach mathematics, English and physics at National Tsinghua University. He was named president of the university in 1931. Over the next several years, he established the university's engineering school and saw the university's enrollment nearly double. The disruptions of World War II required the university to relocate several times.

After the war, Mei left China and settled for a time in New York City. In 1955 he established the National Tsinghua University at Taiwan and served as its president until his death in 1962. He also served for a time as minister of education in Taiwan.

Hobart H. Newell '18
In his 44 years as a faculty member in electrical engineering, Hobart Newell influenced generations of students. Impressed by the department's distinguished record of achievements in high-voltage transmission, Newell spent two years after his graduation from WPI working on high-voltage work at Westinghouse. But early on, he became captivated by radio and high-fidelity sound reproduction.

Before coming to work at WPI in 1921, Newell helped set up radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh, one of the nation's first commercial broadcasters. He also worked with Edwin Armstrong, the inventor of frequency modulation, and helped Armstrong build the world's first FM transmitter. The clarity of the FM signal demanded better loudspeakers, and Newell set up a company to manufacture them. To continue his work on sound, he set up an acoustics lab in the basement of Atwater Kent Laboratories, complete with an anechoic chamber.

Newell received several honors for his roles as an educator and a researcher. From WPI, he received the first Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching and, in 1954, an honorary doctorate. He won the Worcester Engineering Society's Scientific Achievement Award, and he was a senior member of the Institute of Radio Engineers and a fellow of the IEEE.

Harold S. Black '21
The negative feedback theory is widely recognized as one of the most important and fundamental concepts in electrical engineering. The theory enables distortion in a communication signal to be corrected by feeding part of the signal back to the amplifier and comparing it to the original signal. The theory was first applied to long-distance telephone service, but has since found applications in fields as diverse as control engineering and psychology. Indeed, the term "feedback" has become entrenched in the popular lexicon.

The story of how Harold Black discovered negative feedback theory is legendary. In 1927 he was taking the Hudson River Ferry to his office at Bell Laboratories in New York City when he suddenly thought of a solution to the problem of distortion in amplified signals (a fundamental obstacle to economical long-distance telephone service). Having nothing else to write on, he sketched his idea on a copy of the New York Times and then signed and dated it. The patent he won for the negative feedback amplifier was one of 63 U.S. and 278 foreign patents he earned in a long and distinguished career at Bell Labs.

For his contributions to electronics and communications, Black earned numerous awards and honors. They included the IEEE's Lamme Medal, WPI's Robert Goddard '08 Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement, and induction into the Inventor's Hall of Fame.

John Lott Brown '46
When he enrolled at WPI, John Lott Brown heeded his father's advice that a degree in engineering can be good preparation for a wide variety of professions. In his long and distinguished career as a psychologist, educator, administrator and university president, Brown has demonstrated just how wise that advice was.

Brown received his electrical engineering degree as part of the wartime Navy V-12 program. After his Navy service, he enrolled at Temple University and earned a master's in psychology. After a brief career in industry, he decided to return to school to pursue a Ph.D., which he earned at Columbia University. At Columbia, he became involved in an early Air Force research project on human factors engineering, which led to a post as head of the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory at the Naval Air Development Center.

At the same time, he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, ultimately becoming director of the graduate program in physiology. He continued his research on physiology of the visual system at Kansas State University, where he eventually became academic vice president. In 1978 he was named president of the University of South Florida. In 1994, after serving in 'retirement' as director of a university research center, he agreed to lead WPI as interim president while the school searched for its 14th chief executive.

William R. Grogan '46
During its history, WPI has benefitted from the dedication and vision of many individuals whose contributions have elevated the Institute to new levels of excellence. William Grogan has earned a place on that distinguished honor roll.

Grogan graduated from WPI in 1945 through the Navy V-12 program and returned to WPI in 1946 to pursue a masterŐs degree and begin teaching in the Electrical Engineering Department. Long interested in educational innovation, Grogan was named to WPI's first curriculum committee in the mid-1960s and later served on the committee that shaped and implemented the WPI Plan, the Institute's innovative, project-based approach to undergraduate education. He was named WPI's first dean of undergraduate studies in 1970 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1990.

Grogan's contributions to technological education have been recognized by a number of organizations. The American Society for Engineering Education has bestowed on him three of its most prestigious awards. He is a fellow of the IEEE, which presented him with its Major Education Innovation Award in 1986. WPI has honored him with the Robert Goddard '08 Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement, the Trustee's Award for Outstanding Teaching, the first Trustee's Award for Outstanding Service, and an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

Paul A. Allaire '60
As chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp., Paul Allaire has been a key player in one of the most remarkable corporate stories of our time. Over the last decade, Xerox reinvented itself, with an emphasis on total quality management, emerging as a stronger, more profitable and more globally competitive company. Xerox's turnaround earned it all three of the world's major quality awards: the Deming Prize in Japan, the Baldrige Award in the U.S. and the European Quality Award. In recent years, Allaire has revamped the "architecture" of Xerox to make it the leader in the global document market.

Allaire joined Xerox in 1966 as a financial analyst, after working for Univac and General Electric. He served with Rank Xerox in London for 11 years, three of them as managing director, before returning to the U.S. as senior vice president and chief staff officer. He was ultimately named president of the corporation in 1986, CEO in 1990 and chairman in 1991.

His professional accomplishments have earned him the Robert Goddard '08 Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement from WPI, where he has been a trustee since 1987, and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department's Newell Award. WPI awarded Allaire an honorary doctoral degree in 1994, the year he served as the Institute's Commencement speaker.

Robert E. McIntosh '62
For much of his career, Robert McIntosh has been interested in the "big picture." For him, the big picture means using remote sensing to obtain a broad view of the geophysical processes that create weather systems, affect the growth rate of crops and other plants, cause global climate change, and affect the Earth and its inhabitants in many other important ways.

As director of the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he has been a professor since receiving his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Iowa in 1967, he has directed a wide-ranging program of research aimed at developing microwave and millimeter-wave sensors for remote sensing of land, ocean and atmosphere. In other research, he has explored such topics as plasma diagnostics, ionospheric communication and far-infrared lasers. He is the author of more than 70 publications.

His work as an educator and researcher have won McIntosh numerous honors. He is a fellow of the IEEE, which awarded him its Centennial Medal in 1984. He has also received the IEEE's Distinguished Service Award and the G.E. Outstanding Teaching Award. He has been a member of WPI's Electrical Engineering Advisory Committee since 1992.

Donald H. Foley '66
After receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, Donald Foley went on to earn a master's at WPI and a Ph.D. at Syracuse University. In 1971 he co-founded PAR Technology Corp., which was an early leader in the automation of retailing, supplying most of the McDonald's Restaurants with point-of-sale terminals. He ultimately became executive vice president of the company, before leaving in 1987 to become deputy directory of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA (now the Advanced Research Projects Agency) funds research projects aimed at ensuring the technological superiority of the United States. Foley was named assistant director of special programs at DARPA in 1990. In 1992 he joined Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), the largest employee-owned research and engineering company in the world, where today he is sector manager for technology and advanced systems. This major research and development firm specializes in taking scientific advances and emerging technologies in fields such as scientific computing, image processing, electro-optical sensors and signal analysis and turning them into products for the defense and commercial markets.

Ronald R. Zarrella '71
As it did for Paul Allaire, Ronald Zarrella's WPI electrical engineering degree has taken him to the top of the corporate world. Having led a Fortune 500 company, Zarrella now finds himself in the upper ranks of the largest manufacturing corporation in the world.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, Zarrella went to work for Bristol Myers Co., serving for 10 years in a variety of manufacturing and logistics positions before being named director of engineering. He joined Playtex Corp. in 1979 as vice president of operations. In 1985 he became president of operations for the Far East, Latin America and Canada at Bausch & Lomb, the world's leading manufacturer of eye-care products. Two years later he was named president of the company's international division; he was named an executive vice president in 1992 and president and chief operating officer in 1993.

In late 1994, Zarrella was elected a vice president of General Motors and appointed group executive in charge of the corporation's North American Sales, Service and Marketing Group. Zarrella received WPI's Ichabod Washburn Young Alumni Award for Professional Achievement in 1986; he has been a WPI trustee since 1988.

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Last modified: Tue Oct 05 09:34:25 EDT 1999