Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grinnell and Robert Noyce

My father, Robert Noyce, as most readers of this blog will know, attended and loved Grinnell College in Iowa. He offered Grinnell a chance to buy into Intel very early, and their decision to do so led directly to Grinnell's status as one of the colleges with the highest per-student endowment in the nation. The Robert Noyce Science Center on campus is named in honor of my father, Grinnell physics graduate, sometime chairman of the Grinnell board of trustees, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and founder, with Gordon Moore, of Intel.

The science center is a beautiful building with silver LEED certification (which means it's quite a green building). Each scientific discipline desinged its own classrooms. They've arranged the rooms to maximize group work and lab work, with the labs often communicating directly with the classroom, so students can move seamlessly between classroom and laboratory within a single time slot.

With the building renovation in 2008, Intel helped Grinnell set up a tasteful display and tribute to Robert Noyce at the foot of the main staircase. It gives an overview of his career at Grinnell, MIT, Fairchild, Intel, and beyond. I found a couple of quotations particularly meaningful. The first, about optimism, I know well. It typifies the spirit I'd been talking about in my speech to Iowas teacher educators, a spirit I'd like to see us instill in young students as they face the grand world challenges ahead of them. Here it is:

Optimism is an essential ingredient for innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in safe places?
-Robert Noyce

I was surprised to find also a few lines I said at my father's memorial service twenty years ago. I remember saying them, but couldn't have reproduced them on my own:

What mattered most, he told us, was to do what we did best, and to have fun doing it. He taught us to be doers, not bystanders. He never watched sports on television or read about others' adventures. He was too busy pursuing adventures of his own.

This observation stills feels very true to me today. The spirit of "Don't just watch, do!" permeates the story I've just written, Lost in Lexicon. It is also what inspired me to write the book, picking up once again a long-treasured dream of writing.

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