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Lee de Forest

Faculty 1899-1901

Lee de ForestLee de Forest helped shape the course of modern communications through his research and inventions. He earned a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from Yale University. From 1899 to 1901 he was on faculty at Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute (which merged in 1940 to become IIT). During that time, he conducted his first long-distance broadcasts from the roof of Main Building. Thereafter, he spent most of his life as an independent inventor.

Mr. de Forest earned more than 300 patents, but two inventions are most notable: the Audion tube and an early sound-on-film process. In 1906 he invented the Audion tube or “triode” amplifier that could both rectify signals from AC to DC and amplify them. The resulting vacuum tube amplified electric signals and served as a fast switching element that later would be used in digital electronics. Because of later applications of his invention, de Forest became known as the "father of radio".

His other major contribution was to the motion picture industry. In 1924 (prior to the release of the first feature-length "talkie" in 1927) de Forest was awarded a patent for a method of recording sound on film, but Hollywood studios did not initially express interest. In later years the movie industry switched back to the methods de Forest originally proposed, and in 1959 he was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an honorary Oscar. He was also given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Among his many accomplishments, de Forest was a charter member of the Institute of Radio Engineers, one of the predecessors of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). In recognitions of his legacy, each year IEEE honors outstanding engineers with the Lee de Forest Medal. Mr. de Forest was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.

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