Recollections, anecdotes, and comments about Carver Mead and his impact on Caltech.
Carver mead pondering small

Tale of Two Talks

Submitted by: Jim Beck (B.S. '71)

I only heard Professor Mead lecture twice: the first time in 1970 when I was helping with a new class he was teaching to freshmen and then again in 1994 or thereabouts at a conference at Asilomar. I was a senior at that first lecture, listening to Carver explain things about electricity to frosh in a way that I hadn't heard in 3+ years at 'Tech or anywhere else. I felt like my EE education was now complete and I could design whatever electric circuit that needed designing. His intuition and clarity of style made things click in my head that remain clicked to this day.

At Asilomar, he presented his work on the silicon retina and all things related. By then, I had been working as an engineer for over 20 years, including a couple of stints at UC Berkeley, and had seen plenty of academic presentations by very smart people in a variety of fields. Carver Mead's was the best then, and is still the best now, twenty years later.

He had slides, but no PowerPoint and no bullet points. Instead, there was a jumble of graphs, sometimes 2 or 3 on a page, all Xerox'd together. The slides weren't the point. The point was the research - the science and engineering story, which he told in the best storyteller fashion using words and concepts that engaged us without talking down. And just after he would come to one of many "aha" revelations, he would point to a graph projected on the screen that proved the point, and it all clicked. Amazing experience, and when he was finished, I felt like I could design the next silicon retina!

Thank you, Professor Mead.