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Frederick Terman

July 12, 2011

Last Sunday, I added another dead tree book to my library. This was a special book from an unusual source, a "hamfest." Amateur radio operators enjoy meeting to swap stories and equipment, so they have what are called hamfests. The Sussex County Amateur Radio Club of New Jersey holds its annual hamfest this time of year at a fairgrounds about forty-five minutes from my house.

I'm not an amateur radio operator myself, but much of my work involved radio frequency circuits, I have friends who are hams, and my son is a licensed amateur radio operator. I mix well with this crowd; especially so, because there's an abundance of white hair.

One of the items offered for sale, mixed in with vacuum tubes and items that only a radio man of my generation could identify, was a first edition, first impression, of the 1943 book, "Radio Engineers' Handbook," by Frederick Emmons Terman.[1]

This 1019 page book, published four years before I was born, still contains much useful information. One thing about science is that once a fundamental principle has been discovered and characterized, it's useful from that point onwards. Einstein may have improved on Newton, but we still use Newtonian mechanics every day.

Figure caption

Figure 1 of chapter six of Frederick Terman's 1943 book, "Radio Engineers' Handbook."

The caption is, "Schematic circuits of common types of power oscillators.

I've always been partial to the Colpitts, although his version is lacking a DC return path for the cathode)

I knew about Terman's father, Lewis Terman, long before I knew about the son. Lewis Terman was a psychologist and president of the American Psychological Association who invented the Stanford-Binet IQ test. This test got started in a study by the French psychologist, Alfred Binet, on French school children with special needs. The Stanford-Binet name combined his name with that of Stanford University where the elder Terman taught.

In the US, at least, the emphasis for intelligence testing shifted from those at the low end of the scale to the high end, and every mother wanted a genius child. As a teenager, I was interested in the nature vs. nurture debate as to whether genius, or more formally, general intelligence, was mostly genetic.

In the 1960s, the problem was cast as what fraction of intelligence was big-G, the genetic, or nature, part of intelligence, and what fraction was little-g, the nurture part. Physicists use big-G and little-g in a different context. Recent research has shown that the heritability of IQ is about 0.75, which is quite significant, but this heritability seems to express itself only in adulthood.

The younger Terman must have been enriched in both nature and nurture, since he's credited as being the "Father of Silicon Valley." Surprisingly, Terman started with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Stanford, but he then continued there for a master's degree in electrical engineering. He received his doctoral degree (Sc.D., as it's called there) from MIT in 1924. His advisor at MIT was Vannevar Bush, whom I wrote about in a previous article (Basic Research, October 22, 2010).

Frederick Terman

Frederick Terman from the YouTube video, "The Father of Silicon Valley - Frederick Terman," by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association.[2]

(Used with permission).[3])

Terman must have liked Stanford, since he returned there to teach electrical engineering, and he stayed at Stanford for forty years, becoming dean, then provost and acting president.[4] His lasting contribution to the former technical dominance of the US was in establishing the first university-owned industrial park at Stanford before World War II. William Hewlett and David Packard, who were two of his graduate students, started Hewlett-Packard there. Terman was instrumental in getting William Shockley to start his semiconductor company in the area in 1956.[4] Although Shockley's venture had middling success, the startups formed by its former employees helped in the growth of Silicon Valley.

Terman directed the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University during World War II, one product of which was chaff. Chaff was a radar countermeasure that consisted of strips of aluminum that were ejected from aircraft to cause confusing radar reflections. Nowadays, such countermeasures are all electronic and are called electronic countermeasures (ECM).

After the War, the Stanford Industrial park became home to Lockheed Corporation, Varian Associates, General Electric and Eastman Kodak, in addition to Hewlett-Packard, forming the technology base for Silicon Valley. Also after the war, Terman expanded science and technology at Stanford to establish a foundation for government funding. Income from this, and through patent license fees, enabled Stanford to become a first rank university.

Terman was awarded the IRE Medal of Honor in 1950, and he was a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering. Frederick Emmons Terman died on December 19, 1982, at age 82.

The following is an interesting Terman quotation:
"It is better to have one seven-foot jumper on your team than any number of six-foot jumpers."

Since I mentioned IQ testing, I have two personal anecdotes on that topic. When I was in fifth grade, I was given an IQ test. One question that I remember from that test was to choose the type of person most like a physician. Two of the choices were a lawyer and a plumber. The "right" answer was lawyer, since physicians and lawyers are both professionals. The answer I chose was plumber. When you consider all the piping in the human body, such as arteries, veins and intestines, plumbing makes the most sense.

That test also asked for my birth date. I knew the day and month, but I wasn't quite sure about the year. I remembered its being an odd number, so that narrowed it down to 1947 or 1949. I chose 1949, which made me two years younger than I really was. Since IQ is the ratio of "mental age" to physical age, if I was a normal ten year old, that change would have given me an IQ of 125. They do check these things, don't they?


  1. Frederick Emmons Terman, Sc.D., "Radio Engineers' Handbook," McGraw-Hill, 1943, 1019 pages.
  2. Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, "The Father of Silicon Valley - Frederick Terman," YouTube video.
  3. Santa Clara Valley Historical Association Web Site.
  4. Frederick Terman, PBS Transistor Web Site.
  5. Frederick Terman page on Wikipedia.                                   

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