Stanford professor Donald Dunn dies at 85 | October 12, 2011 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 12, 2011

Stanford professor Donald Dunn dies at 85

Professor Donald A. Dunn, a resident of Atherton for 50 years, died at Stanford Hospital on Sept. 27 after a long illness. He was 85.

He was a passionate teacher and innovator, frequently engaged in multiple fields of study and work contemporaneously, the family said.

In the 1960s, he was involved in the formation of a new department at Stanford, the Department of Engineering-Economic Systems (EES), which was instrumental in developing an early form of systems engineering.

EES was a primary interest for Dr. Dunn from this point on, and he was a professor and associate chair of EES for many years, retiring in 1995.

His early publishing was in various fields of physics and electronics, including microwave electron tubes, microwave power systems, and computer simulations of plasmas. More recently he published in areas of systems engineering, satellite and computer communication, and telecommunications public policy.

Born and raised in Southern California, he attended South Pasadena-San Marino High, taking chemistry courses at Pasadena Junior College.

In 1943, the Navy began enrolling officer candidates in its V-12 college training program, and he was admitted to Cal Tech, where he studied chemistry with Linus Pauling and history with J.E. Wallace Sterling, graduating in three years.

He completed his Naval service aboard a light cruiser and then came to Northern California to work for Eitel-McCullough, where he eventually served as director of research.

Not only did he attend graduate school at Stanford University, studying electrical engineering under Fred Terman and receiving his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1956, he also attended Stanford Law School, winning the first Hellman Legal Writing Prize.

Just before starting law school, he met Jane Goodspeed, a graduate of the Stanford School of Education and a teacher at Palo Alto High School, and they were married in 1948.

He received the LL.B. degree from Stanford Law School in 1951 and was a member of the State Bar of California; he was admitted to practice before the U.S. patent office, and he practiced patent law as an attorney with the firm of Flehr and Swain in San Francisco and also for Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles.

While in law school, he worked in the tube lab at the Stanford Electronics Research Lab (ERL); he later became director of the Electron Devices Laboratory at Stanford and director of the Stanford Plasma Physics Laboratory.

He was a pioneer in the field of microwave tube research, working with Dean Watkins, Hubert Heffner, Lester Field, Ed Ginzton, Karl Spangenberg, and Marvin Chodorow.

As a microwave engineer, he was a consultant on the ECM pods of the XB70 supersonic bomber. He was chair of the International Symposium on Microwave Power held at Stanford in 1967 and a member of the board of governors of the International Microwave Power Institute from 1966 to 1968.

In 1970 he co-authored a book on the future of satellite communications, and in 1972 he wrote "Models of Particles and Moving Media." He was a senior member and former chair of the San Francisco section of the IEEE.

Dr. Dunn was affiliated with Stanford Research Institute, where he directed a study on the interdependence of computers and communications for the FCC. He was a consultant to the National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Telecommunications and addressed the 91st Congress in 1969 about telecommunications policy.

In 1976, in an interview in Computer World magazine, he predicted growth from 500,000 online terminal users to 50 million. In the late 1970s, as a telecommunications policy specialist, he was an expert witness for the AT&T breakup case. In 1979, he co-authored a book on the importance of consumer information for the National Science Foundation.

At Stanford's EES department, he was an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher, and he could regularly be seen riding his bicycle through the Quad to and from classes, the family said.

Teaching was a crucial aspect of his life from the 1960s until his work as an emeritus professor in the 1990s. He traveled widely both as a professor and consultant in the field of telecommunications, often with his family, and he particularly enjoyed visiting his graduate students in their home countries, including China, Greece, Brazil, Italy, Korea, Norway, England, and Israel.

He had a lifelong love of the opera, which he attended in San Francisco and around the world. Upon his retirement, he enjoyed spending time at the beach in Aptos, continued to write and to advise students, and continued his 40 years of neighborhood runs and daily swims at DeGuerre Pool.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elizabeth Jane Dunn; his children, William Goodspeed Dunn and Dr. Elizabeth Ross Dunn; and two grandchildren.

At HIS request, there will be no service; a celebration of his life for colleagues, friends and family is planned for a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts in Don's name may be made to the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University.


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