Lynn Conway

2014 Fellow

For her work in developing and disseminating new methods of integrated circuit design

"There’s always excitement in the air at MIT. I first breathed that air in September 1955, as a 17-year-old freshman moving into East Campus. As door after door of knowledge opened before me, I filled with feelings of empowerment."

— Lynn Conway

Lynn Conway was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1938. After studying physics at M.I.T., and earning a B.S. (1962) and M.S.E.E. (1963) at Columbia University, Lynn joined IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Working on IBM's Advanced Computing Systems project, she made foundational contributions to computer architecture including invention of multiple-out-of-order dynamic instruction scheduling.

Sadly, IBM fired Lynn as she underwent gender transition in 1968. Starting all over again in a covert new identity, Lynn advanced rapidly to become a computer architect at Memorex, but also began decades living in fear of being 'outed' and again losing her career.

Recruited by Xerox PARC in 1973, Lynn invented scalable design rules for VLSI chip design, became principal author of the famous Mead-Conway text Introduction to VLSI systems, and in 1978, while serving as a Visiting Associate Professor of EECS at M.I.T., pioneered the teaching of the new digital system design methods - thereby launching a revolution in microchip design in the 1980's.

While at PARC Lynn also invented and demonstrated an internet e-commerce infrastructure for rapid chip prototyping, spawning the "fabless-design + silicon-foundry" paradigm of semiconductor design and manufacturing. Institutionalized by DARPA at USC-ISI, the resulting "MOSIS" system enabled the rapid development of thousands of chip designs, leading to many major startups in the 80's and beyond.

As Assistant Director for Strategic Computing at DARPA, Lynn next crafted the meta-architecture and led the planning of the Strategic Computing Initiative, a major 1980's effort to expand the technology-base for modern intelligent-weapons systems.

Lynn joined the University of Michigan in 1985 as Professor of EECS and Associate Dean of Engineering, where she continued her distinguished career. Now retired, she lives with her engineer husband Charlie on their 23 acre homestead in rural Michigan.

In 2012, the IEEE published Lynn's "VLSI Reminiscences" in a special issue of Solid-State Circuits Magazine. In that memoir Lynn finally began revealing how - closeted and hidden behind the scenes - she conceived the ideas and orchestrated the events that changed an industry.

A Fellow of the IEEE, Lynn received the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computer Society, holds an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, and is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering.


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