First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Lewis Terman


Full name

Lewis Terman (usually use "Lew")

Birth Date


What Award did you receive from IEEE?

The IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award

Place of Birth

Stanford University, CA (actually, in the hospital in San Francisco, CA)

Where did you grow up

On the Stanford University campus

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

My father was the famous Stanford Professor and author of numerous important EE textbooks, Dean of Engineering, Provost, and 1941 IRE President Frederick Terman. My mother was an influential teacher of using phonics to teach reading and co-author of a book on same. I have two older brothers who majored in Physics. My grandfather (for whom I am named) was the famous Stanford psychology professor of the multi-generational "Gifted Children" study.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

Always interested in technical areas, especially electronics.

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I had two older brothers who were never in the same school I was attending. My father's parents lived on the Stanford Campus and I saw them reasonably regularly. My mother's siblings were out of state and I saw them on occasion.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

I liked sports. I built and flew free-flight model airplanes on the then-vacant areas of the Stanford Campus. I liked plays and Broadway musicals, and I developed a life-long love of New Orleans/Dixieland Jazz, playing trumpet and leading bands upon occasion. I later developed an interest in classical, opera, ballet, and plays. I had season tickets for some years to the New York Rangers when I moved to New York.

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

My major involvelment with athletics was a 20-or-so-year career as a fast-pitch softball pitcher in high school, Stanford intramural, and company and city leagues, on the average winning one championship per year. In high school I swam backstroke on the best high school swimming team in the nation (unfortunately, not due to me). I played water polo in high school and lettered playing water polo as a Stanford Freshman (but clearly wasn't going to make the varsity team). I also played intramural basketball at Stanford and in the company league.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

In high school I sold ice cream at Stanford sporting events, eventually working my way up to checking in the other vendors. As a teenager, moving up to a checker responsible for hundreds of dollars was a surprise. As an undergraduate, I worked three summers at Hewlett Packard on an equipment assembly line, among other jobs there.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

We usually stayed on campus in summer. The family went to the Stanford Camp at Fallen Leaf Lake (near Lake Tahoe) for a week in some summers.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

I always liked the scientific/technical courses. I thought they were interesting and could see the value/impact.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

English grammar. But later as an IEEE editor I could see the value.

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

Stanford. It was in my blood—and it was free!! I did my PhD thesis on the measurement of surface states in MOS structures using C-V curves. It became an industry-wide standard, and was known as the Terman Method.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

I'm currently retired, but spent 45 years and 1 day at the IBM Research Center—my first, only, and favorite job movng IBM technology forward.

Has your career turned out as you expected?

Far better than expected!!!

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

IEEE has had a major impact on my career, both technical information and the outstanding people I have met. IEEE has been great!

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

That I have made an impact on a very important organization, in a major technical field, and through it a major impact on society.

What other associations have helped you in your career?

It's mainly IEEE.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

Find the right technical field and company, and take advantage of what IEEE offers in technical information access and personal interactions./opportunities.

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

Nothing stands out.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

The impact of getting semiconductor memory into IBM and the industry, watching Moore's Law being fulfilled in the industry, my impact on IEEE (especially my year as IEEE President), and the IEEE Humanitarian focus.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

Covid has had real impact, as I've been reduced to walking around the neighborhood, talking to neighbors at a six-foot distance; watching some TV, and reading.

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

Getting IEEE to focus on Humanitarian activities.

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

I like Asian food, especially sushi and Chinese food.

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

Classic Jazz (New Orleans, Dixieland); I did play trumpet at one time.

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.

Our collection of paintings and sculptures.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I was a fast-pitch softball pitcher for ~20 years; I played trumpet (not well); and my wife and I were married on the day of the year between our respective birthdays.

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

No specific person, it varied from time to time.

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

My computer (DUH!!!)

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?

Been married to Bobbie for 62 years.