LCD Pioneer George Heilmeier Named to National Inventors Hall of Fame

George_Heilmeier_tif George Heilmeier

George Heilmeier, a pioneering contributor to liquid-crystal-display technology, will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2009. During the 1960s, Heilmeier discovered four new electro-optic effects in liquid crystals at RCA Laboratories and ushered in the first liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) based on what he termed the dynamic scattering mode (DSM).

Heilmeier was born in 1936 in Philadelphia, Pensyvannia. He earned his bachelor's degree with honors in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and two master's degrees and a Ph.D from Princeton University. As a Ph.D student, Heilmeier worked part-time at RCA Laboratories. After becoming interested in organic semiconductors, he focused his thesis in that field, then began conducting research on the electro-optic effects of liquid crystals that would eventually lead to the first LCDs.

After heading an RCA Laboratories research division, Heilmeier became a White House Fellow and a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He then became Assistant Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Electronics and Computer Science. In 1975, he was named Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). At DARPA, Heilmeier contributed to the first stealth aircraft and other major military initiatives such as artificial intelligence.

In 1977, he returned to industry as the Senior Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for Texas Instruments and later as Chairman and CEO of Bellcore Corp., which was formed out of AT&T's Bell Labs after the divestiture. He retired in 1997.

Heilmeier is also known for drafting "Heilmeier's Catechism," a series of questions to answer when developing research proposals and business plans. Numerous versions exist on the Internet. The following is representative:

• What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.

• How is it done today and what are the limits of current practice?

• What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?

• Who cares? If you're successful, what difference will it make? What are the risks and the payoffs?

• How much will it cost? How long will it take?

• What are the mid-term and final "exams" to check for success?


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the integrated circuit, the National Inventors Hall of Fame chose this year to honor 15 individuals whose advances enabled or related to integrated-circuit technology. In addition to Heilmeier, the roster includes Jean Hoerni, who developed the manufacturing process for modern integrated circuits, and Alfred Cho, who developed a process used in creating devices such as the lasers used in CD and DVD players and drives. The 2009 induction ceremony will be held on May 2 in Mountain View, California.

– Information Display staff