1860s-1890s: The Early Years

Engineering education and innovation have been a part of the University of California since it was chartered on March 23, 1868. Berkeley was the first of nine U.C. campuses established and was comprised initially of six colleges, including Mechanics, Mining and Civil Engineering. In 1875, President Daniel Coit Gilman appointed Frederick G. Hesse to head the College of Mechanics. In 1893, Hesse selected Clarence Linus Cory to be Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Cory’s principal work during his first two years was connected with plans for the electrical laboratories. In 1894, Cory and Joseph LeConte, largely with student help, installed electrical equipment. Research started immediately and electrical service was extended outside the Mechanics Building and supplied light and power to the entire campus from the laboratory plant.

(See “Clarence Cory and a History of Early Electrical Engineering at UC Berkeley” by John Torous )

1900s-1950s: Formation of Electrical Engineering

In 1901, Cory was made Dean of the College of Mechanics and for more than a generation was recognized as a farsighted and vigorous leader in his profession. Cory Hall was named in his honor. After his retirement in 1930, the Colleges of Mechanics and Civil Engineering were combined to form the College of Engineering, containing the department of Civil Engineering and the department of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. In 1942, the Colleges of Engineering and Mining merged to form a single administrative unit, the College of Engineering, and a single academic unit, the Department of Engineering, with the various fields, such as electrical engineering, known as divisions. In 1958, the Division of Electrical Engineering again became the Department of Electrical Engineering.

1946-1958: Joseph Thomas Gier

In 1946, the EE Department hired Joseph Gier as a half-time lecturer.  When he was promoted to associate professor in 1953, he became the first tenured black professor in the entire University of California educational system and the first tenured black faculty member in a STEM field—and the second in any field—at a top-ranked, predominantly white university in the country.   Gier was a world expert in the field of thermal and luminous radiation, particularly infrared measurement, and was considered by many at the time to be the “best laboratory instructor ever to teach in electrical engineering at Berkeley.”  He was promoted to full professor in  1958 and transferred to UCLA shortly afterward. Learn more about Prof. Gier.

Research Highlights in Electrical Engineering (1950s-1990s)

In the 1950s and 1960s, research conducted by faculty and graduate students contributed to the early development of microwave devices, surface acoustic wave devices, antennas, and lasers; cellular and space communications, magnetic disk storage technology, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The electrical ground-fault interrupter, now required for kitchen and bathroom circuits, was invented here.

During these years, the foundations of modern system theory were laid down by Professors Desoer and Zadeh, followed by a stream of fundamental contributions to nonlinear and stochastic systems led by Professors Desoer, Sastry, Varaiya, Wong, and Walrand. In the field of communications, basic contributions to information and coding theory were made by Professors Berlekamp, Sakrison, Varaiya, and Thomasian. Fundamental characterization of and measurements for fading and multipath radio channels were conducted by Professor Turin.

The 1970s-pioneered contributions to computer-aided design for microelectronics, the best-known being the SPICE program, were led by Professors D. O. Pederson, E. S. Kuh, and R. A. Rohrer. Industry-leading firms, including Cadence and Synopsys, were founded by graduates to commercialize design tools for microelectronics. A Berkeley team led by Profs. R. W. Brodersen, P. R. Gray, and D. A. Hodges invented mixed-signal MOS integrated circuits, combining precision analog-digital conversion and switched-C filters with high-density digital circuits.

Innovation accelerated in the 1980s. Many of the above results were extended and found wider acceptance and recognition. Mixed-signal CMOS voice coder-decoders based on Berkeley’s research were incorporated in new digital telephone switching systems from AT&T and Nortel. Systems research produced fundamental and applied contributions to design and control of power systems (Professors Wu and Varaiya), transportation systems (Professors Desoer and Varaiya), and robotics (Professors Fearing and Sastry). Professors Messerschmitt and Edward Lee made major advancements in modeling and design automation for heterogeneous and embedded software systems. Professors Richard Muller and Richard White initiated pioneering research on microelectromechanical systems, fabricated using extensions of microelectronics technology. Miniaturized, batch-fabricated sensors and actuators such as accelerometers, valves, mirror arrays, and motors were demonstrated. Photolithography for microelectronics was raised to a much improved state of control and predictability through fundamental and applied research led by Professors Andy Neureuther and William Oldham. Their work demonstrated useful photolithographic processes at dimensions smaller than the wavelength of light. Professor Chenming Hu and colleagues made important advances in fundamental understanding of semiconductor device reliability, and developed the now-universal BSIM models for designing with submicron transistors. The nanoscale FinFET MOS transistor was invented in a collaboration including Professors Jeff Bokor, Chenming Hu, and Tsu-Jae King.

Many faculty leaders of the Department’s post-war growth retired during the 1990s. A new generation of faculty members became the leaders in research and education. With the addition of new faculty members, strong programs in computer-aided design and microsensors and actuators continued at a high level. New research thrusts were developed in signal processing, wireless communications, photonics, micro-robotics, sensor networks, bioengineering, parallel computing, and quantum computation.

1960s-1970s: Development of Berkeley Computer Science

During the early 1960s, computer systems research led to one of the first practical time-sharing systems, implemented commercially in 1966 as the SDS 940 (later, Xerox 940) series of computers. Graduates from Berkeley’s programs became leaders both in industry and in academic institutions, nationally and worldwide.

In 1968, a group of Electrical Engineering faculty members transferred to the College of Letters and Science to participate in establishing a Department of Computer Science. A 1973 merger formed the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, greatly broadening the scope of education and research activity.  View a talk given on May 10, 2010 by Prof. Lotfi Zadeh about this significant time in EECS history.

Research Highlights In Computer Science (1970s-1990s)

The impact of Berkeley research on the practical end of computer science has been significant. During the 1970s, theoretical research led by Professors R. A. Karp and S. A. Cook established fundamental concepts and limits of computational complexity. Former student Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs. Berkeley faculty and students, led by Profs. R. Fabry and D. Ferrari, obtained source code and rights to the early Bell Labs UNIX operating system, and added networking features and virtual memory support for the DEC VAX. Berkeley UNIX on VAX became the standard for DARPA researchers of this period. The INGRES database system, developed by Professors M. Stonebraker and E. Wong, established the feasibility of implementing the relational data model on small computers. Berkeley INGRES was the first complete implementation of a relational database management system.

Innovation accelerated in the 1980s. Berkeley UNIX, including the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol suite, was publicly released as BSD 4.2. The work on computer-aided design broke new ground with demonstrations of design synthesis from logic specifications, producing chip designs that are “correct by construction.” Yet there also were many new activities and achievements.

The development of Reduced Instruction Set computers by David Patterson and Carlo Sequin, the Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks project led by Randy Katz and David Patterson, and the INGRES relational database system led by Mike Stonebraker, Larry Rowe and Eugene Wong, can be directly connected to multi-billion dollar industries. In the area of system software, the impact of Berkeley Unix on minicomputers and subsequently on workstations and, through LINUX, on personal computers, is self-evident. Nor can we forget the role of Berkeley alumni in sparking the workstation and personal computer industry—pioneers such as Butler Lampson (Xerox PARC), Bill Joy (Sun), and Steve Wozniak (Apple). Numerical computations would not have been reliable had it not been for adoption of the IEEE 754 floating point standard, largely due to William Kahan, who received a Turing Award in 1989 for this work. In the area of programming languages and software engineering, Berkeley research has been noted for its flair for combining theory and practice.

UC Berkeley led the development of computational complexity theory with the foundational work of Richard Karp who showed the hardness of well-known algorithmic problems, such as finding the minimum cost tour for a traveling salesperson, could be related to NP-completeness—a concept proposed earlier by former Berkeley mathematics professor Stephen A. Cook. The resulting P vs. NP question has since been accepted as one of the ten most important open problems in mathematics, along with such classics as the Riemann Hypothesis. Berkeley computer scientists continue to lead the field of computational complexity, with work such as that on probabilistically checkable proofs and the hardness of approximation problems by Sanjeev Arora and Madhu Sudan in the early 1990s, and on quantum complexity theory by Ethan Bernstein and Umesh Vazirani a few years later. Two Turing Awards (Richard Karp, Manuel Blum) and four ACM Ph.D. Dissertation Awards (Eric Bach, Noam Nisan, Madhu Sudan, and Sanjeev Arora) are just a few of the honors garnered by the research in theoretical computer science at Berkeley.

Berkeley’s AI effort grew largely in the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when problems with this paradigm were becoming evident, and researchers at Berkeley played a major role in developing the new, more probabilistic and learning-oriented AI. This new synthesis brought traditional AI together with control theory, pattern recognition, neural networks, and statistical learning theory. Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig’s bestselling textbook has become the canonical exemplar of this synthesis, and research at Berkeley in fields such as vision, robotics and learning is bringing us ever closer to the dream of truly intelligent machines.