Kurt E. Petersen

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Kurt E. Petersen
Kurt E. Petersen
San Francisco, CA, USA
Associated organizations
Fields of study
IEEE Medal of Honor


Dr. Kurt E. Petersen has been instrumental in establishing the promising field of MEMS, from early conceptual ideas to finished system designs. He has also founded three of the key companies of the field.

Dr. Petersen’s seminal review paper, "Silicon as a Mechanical Material" appeared in the May 1982 issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE, and is credited with inspiring widespread research in a field that has already delivered impressive results, and holds great promise for the future. This paper is still regarded as required reading for anyone entering this area of study. In addition, he initiated and led the development and commercial implementation of several crucial MEMS processing technologies.

In 1982, he co-founded Transensory Devices, and in 1985 he co-founded Lucas NovaSensor. These companies developed pressure sensors and accelerometers, which were widely used in the medical and automotive industries, and inspired other MEMS-based business and research that followed. More recently, he founded CEPHEID, a developer of integrated bioanalytical test systems, where he is President, Chief Operating Officer, and Director.

Kurt E. Petersen was born on 13 February 1948 in San Francisco, California. He obtained a B.S. cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1970 and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975, both in Electrical Engineering. He joined the IBM Research Division in San Jose, California as a research staff member in 1975, where he initiated his groundbreaking work.

Dr. Petersen is a Fellow of the IEEE, and has been a key force behind a number of Institute activities related to MEMS. He has served on numerous technical program committees as well as Chairman of the Solid-State Sensors and Actuators Workshop and Chairman of the first International Conference on MEMS. He is invited frequently to speak on the subject of MEMS and, particularly, the commercialization of MEMS.

A member of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi, he has won many honors, including an award for the “Year’s Best R&D” from R&D Magazine, the “Best New Product of the Year” from Design News Magazine. He holds more than 22 patents and has published more than 100 technical papers.

Kurt Petersen and his wife, Carol, reside in Fremont, CA. He has two children, Scott, a software guru at Adobe Microsystems, and Brett, a molecular biologist soon to attend medical school. His outside interests include travel, cosmology, and skiing.