Professor Edward J. McCluskey

February 2016

Edward J. McCluskey, a professor emeritus at Stanford whose research helped pave the way for electronics and computing, died on Feb. 13. He was 86.

Born on the eve of the Great Depression, McCluskey graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1953, earning honors in mathematics and physics, then went on to study electrical engineering at MIT, where he earned his doctorate in 1956. But the experience that set him on the path toward professional greatness occurred during the period from 1955 through 1959, when he worked first as an MIT intern and later as a staff researcher at Bell Telephone Laboratories during its heyday.

In a 2008 lecture, when he won an award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), McCluskey fondly recalled that storied period when Bell researchers were inventing many of the building blocks of electronics and computing. It was in this intellectual crucible that McCluskey helped devise a way to efficiently and unerringly design logic chips, an achievement that would form the basis of his dissertation. More important, the Quine-McCluskey algorithm, as it is called, paved the way for the automated design of complex chips and ultimately enabled the success of the semiconductor industry.

“He was the father of modern digital design,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. Aart de Geus, chairman of Synopsys, a company whose design automation software traces its lineage to McCluskey’s work, likened him “to a great oak tree that we suddenly see fall.”

Edward and Roberta McCluskey were divorced and she passed away in 1996. In 1981, he married Lois Thornhill McCluskey, who was his companion to the end. In addition to Lois, he is survived by five of his six children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The family asks that anyone wishing to remember Edward McCluskey with a donation make a gift in his name to the Sempervirens Fund, Peninsula Open Space Trust or Save the Redwoods League.