Mad Science #3: Land Mine Follies

Two stories of mad science this time about this vicious class of weapons, and one about how they ought to be done:

Radioactive Nazi Land Mines

Like Mad Science #1, the first story comes from Atomic Adventures (2017) by James Mahaffey.   Ordinary land mines have steel or aluminum cases, and so can be found by metal detectors.  These work by inducing a current in the object with a changing magnetic field, and then picking up the object’s field.  To defeat that, you can make the mine out of something non-conductive, and the Nazis actually built 11 million mines with glass shells.  These had the added ‘feature’ of riddling people with glass shards, which are hard to see on X-rays.

But you don’t just want to hide mines – you want  to be able to find them yourself.  So the Nazis came up with another idea – make them radioactive.   They can then be detected with Geiger counters.   In 1944/45 they built a class of anti-tank mines called Topfmines which were painted with a material called ‘tarnsand’.   No one seems to know quite what this was, but it appears to be tailings from uranium mining.   The mine’s case was made of pressed wood pulp, and it contained 6 kg of TNT.  It had a pressure plate on the top and a trigger that responded to 150 kg of pressure.  That’s heavier than a person (at least in those days), but would be set off by a vehicle.

Topfmine Radioactive Anti-tank Mine – credit  Bottom right image shows the bottom of the mine and its carrying handle

They then mounted a Geiger counter called the Stuttgart 43 on a long pole and attached it to the front of tanks. It could pick up this mine long before they drove over it.

The Allies never caught onto this.   About 800,000 were made in 1944 and 45.   They were probably laid in France and Poland to stop Allied advances, and many may still be there, along with so much other unexploded ordnance.  The casings would degrade over time, and the charges would also deteriorate, but the radioactivity would last forever.  They’re just another memento of Nazi occupation.

British Nuclear Land Mines, Heated by Chickens

One expects craziness from Nazis, but an even madder project came from the British.   They started developing their own nuclear weapons in the 1950s after the US cut off research cooperation due to spying scandals.  Their first bomb was called Blue Danube, and went into production in 1956.   This was a huge implosion device, weighing about 5 tons, with about a 10 kiloton yield.   That’s a hard thing to move by bomber, so they thought about other applications for the same design.   They hit upon using it as a land mine on the plains of Northern Germany.   If the Cold War turned hot, and thousands of Soviet tanks rolled out from East Germany to attack the West, these would be set off by timers or miles-long wires for remote detonators.   The project was called Blue Peacock and two were actually built:

That Time the British Developed a Chicken Heated Nuclear Bomb
Blue Peacock Nuclear Land Mine in the collection of the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE,  Click for AWE article by curator

Yes, turning Germany into a radioactive wasteland just to block tanks was a deeply terrible idea.  But, they reasoned, it would be even worse if it didn’t work.   These bombs were just sitting there in the cold ground.  How could they be sure that the timers and detonators wouldn’t freeze up in the winter?  They considered swathing them in glass fiber pillows, but then hit on a much better idea – put a crate of chickens inside.  Their body heat would amount to about 10 watts per chicken.  Keep them from pecking at the wiring, give them some feed and water, and they would be fine, at least until they were vaporized.

This was discovered on April 1st, 2004, when the program was declassified after 50 years.  April 1st, eh?   But no, it wasn’t a prank – there were archival drawings of just where the coop would go.  Wasn’t that rather cruel to the chickens?   Well, when setting off an atomic bomb, the health of chickens is low on one’s priority list.

Although ten of them were proposed to be built, the whole program was cancelled in 1958 when they came to their senses.  However, the US did go on to build nuclear land mines, the Medium Atomic Demolition Munition, and deployed them between 1961 and 1989 in Europe, South Korea, and possibly even the Golan Heights.

Modern Mine Replacements

Land mines are horrible anyway, and injure many thousands of people a year, often children playing in abandoned fields.   Most countries are banning them under the auspices of the Ottawa Land Mine Treaty.  Unfortunately, the major military powers – the US, Russia, China, and India – have refused to sign.  In spite of spending trillions on their militaries, they still like this cheap and dangerous weapon, even though it injures their own people.

But if there have to be minefields, let’s at least make them safer.  A friend of mine suggested that instead of strewing a field with explosives, strew it with sensors.  When they detect a person or vehicle crossing a restricted area, signal an automated mortar.  It drops a shell on the detected position within a couple of seconds.   The signals are encrypted to prevent spoofing, and the sensors disable themselves if disturbed.  The whole thing can be disabled if your own troops are entering the area, and shut down when the front changes position.  This is just what DARPA was trying to do with its Smart Dust program in the late 1990s.

Given the progress in Internet-of-Things electronics, this could well be cheaper than minefields!  These sensors could cost pennies.   Maybe then this weapon class can be eliminated everywhere.

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Is STEM Recruitment Working?

The technical world, that of math, science, and engineering, has been trying for decades to get more young people interested in it.   It collectively sponsors TV programs, high school contests, and scholarships.   Politicians are constantly touting the benefits of STEM careers, as are companies.

So has all this encouragement had an effect?   To check, let’s look to see if more people are entering the fields, as defined by getting bachelor’s degrees in them.  This should be a better guide than graduate degrees, because those are often not economic, and are heavily affected by how many foreign students come.  Let’s also derate by the number of people in the age group, to make sure it’s not some population shift.  The Census tracks population in five-year groupings, so let’s pick ages 20-24, which covers the usual age for  for when people get bachelor’s degrees. The number of people in that range has varied from 16M in 1969, up to 22M at the peak of the Boomers in 1983, down to 18M in 1997, and back up to 23M in 2015.

The National Center for Educational Statistics, a division of the NSF, tracks the number of degrees here: WebCASPAR database.  I’ve massaged all the data into this spreadsheet –  STEM Recruitment As Measured by Bachelor Degrees – but let me put the charts here with some description. So, first, engineering:

I’m including Computer Science under engineering, because science is the study of nature, not machinery.   CS is much the most popular degree, but interest in it varies a lot.  It peaked in 2003, when people got into it during the Dot-Com Bubble in the late 90s, crashed in the Great Recession, and is still not back to peak levels.

Mech E was stable for decades, but recently is on the rise, probably because of robotics. The TV shows Mythbusters and Junkyard Wars may also be helpful, since those stress mechanical invention above all other kinds of engineering.

EE peaked in the 80s, and has been on a long, slow decline since, although there’s a recent small up-tick.  EE is a capital-intensive field these days, unlike most of its history, and so recruitment is down.

Civil is pretty constant, as are Industrial and Aerospace, but Chemical is doing well.

Other is a catch-all for many categories, and is doing very well.   Its major categories are Biochemical, Biomedical, Mechatronic, Naval and Ocean Engineering, Nuclear, and Systems.  The data doesn’t break this down, but I would expect that the bio-oriented and the robot-oriented ones have big increases.

Now let’s look at math and the major sciences:

Biology utterly rules, and is doing great.  About twice as many people get bachelors in biology as in CS.  In fact, there are more biologists than all engineering fields combined.  This is partly because Bio is an entry degree for medicine, and partly because Bio really is the dominant field of scientific research these days.

Math is actually down from its level in the 1960s, but is on a slow rise these days.   CS probably took away the more practically-oriented math people in the 1970s.

Chemistry, physics, and the natural sciences (Astronomy, Meteorology, Oceanography, and Geology) are all stagnant.

The above are the so-called hard sciences, a term I dislike, but they’re the ones that concern the natural world.  The ones that concern the human world are more popular:

Psychology and Sociology are just fundamentally more interesting to us humans than fields that deal with abstract forces or invisible molecules.  I think we’re on a threshold in these fields of being able to truly model what’s happening in them, which should lead to breakthroughs at least as big as those of 19th century physics and 20th century chemistry.   Like those, they can also be used for ill, as I mentioned in Weaponized Psychology Helped Elect Trump  and in When Modeling Goes Bad – “Weapons of Math Destruction” .  But understanding is always key to progress, and these fields are moving fast.

Medical Sciences is on an upswing as part of medicine in general, but Anthropology seems constant, perhaps because too much of the world is inter-connected.  Linguistics as actually on a good upswing but can’t be seen at this scale.

Finally, let’s look at how STEM fields compare to the trends in degrees as a whole:

The large fields that are growing are Business (unsurprising as the country becomes more mercantile), Natural Science (largely Biology), and Human Science (largely Psychology).  Engineering is on a slight rise (largely CS), and Humanities and Education are flat.  The big changes happened in the 1980s, when Humanities and Education were displaced by Business, probably as opportunities for women grew.

So what can we say overall?   It doesn’t really look that good for STEM.   Biology and CS are up, but they’re volatile.   Other STEM fields are largely flat or only slowly growing.  My own field, EE, is actually declining.  STEM promoters are almost certainly not trying to increase the number of Psychology majors, but that’s doing very well.   Maybe this promotion has a minor effect compared to people’s inherent interest in fields and the career prospects for it.




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Mad Science #2 – Zapping ICBMs with Nuke-Induced Radiation Belts

The Imagineers of War by Sharon Weinberger

Click for publisher site

Another great recent source of crazed science stories is Sharon Weinberger’s thorough and refreshingly skeptical history of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, The Imagineers of War.    DARPA has been all the rage for the last few years because it has been instrumental in some big advances.  These include the VELA nuclear test detection network, early computer networking, the Internet of Things, and autonomous cars.

But that’s not what we want to hear about.  The US Pentagon is the best-funded ministry of the richest nation in the world, so of course it can do important research.  It would be embarrassing if it didn’t. No, the reason to read a history like this is for the baroque stuff, the ideas that people with too much money and no oversight can produce.

One of DARPA’s very first efforts qualifies: Operation Argus in 1958.   In brief, this was the launching of three small nuclear bombs about 300 miles up to see if their explosions could emit enough charged particles to damage ICBMs as they flew through.  It was elaborate, brilliantly managed, incredibly expensive, and ridiculous.

DARPA had been founded that very year in response to Sputnik.   It showed that the Soviets could launch inter-continental nuclear missiles, which panicked everyone.   DARPA’s immediate goal was to try something, anything, that might defend against them.

Nicholas Christofilos, 1916-1972, click for bio

They immediately adopted a proposal from Nicholas Christofilos, a Greek-American physicist at Lawrence Livermore.   He had made his bones by inventing a way to focus particle beams in accelerators, leading to much higher energies.   In the mid 1950s he had been working on a fusion scheme called Astron, which contained a hot plasma by having the charged ions spiral around magnetic lines.  When Sputnik was launched, he realized that the same might happen in the Earth’s magnetic field, and was pleased when the first Explorer satellite detected exactly that in the form of the Van Allen Belts.  He fell to wondering if such belts could be induced artificially.  He did some quick calculations, and estimated that a one-megaton bomb could set up a radiation belt capable of delivering 100 roentgens per hour.   That would kill an astronaut fairly quickly, and maybe it would damage an ICBM.

Herbert York.jpg

Herbert York, 1921-2009

His work came to the attention of Herbert York, Chief Scientist of ARPA, and in only four months the whole experiment was put together.  They were in a hurry because everyone expected that atmospheric nuclear testing would soon be banned, and Eisenhower did halt it at the end of October 1958.  They would use small bombs, of only 1 to 2 kilotons, to avoid ground radiation hazards, and launch them in secret from Navy ships in the South Atlantic, where the Belts dip closest to the Earth.    They would monitor the blasts with equipment on the ships, with sounding rockets, and most importantly with the Explorer 4 satellite.   That was only the third satellite that the US ever launched, and it was already dragooned into this mad scheme.   Van Allen himself helped with the instrumentation on it.

The whole expedition was huge, with 9 ships and 4500 crew.  They did three launches in August and September of 1958, but the scintillator detector on Explorer 4 failed before the third one.   The sailors saw the flashes and then some striking auroras as the particles rained down.  The particles also bounced around the field lines and came down over the Azores in the north Atlantic, causing more auroras.   The satellite really did detect an increase in electron flux up in the Belts, and radio propagation was affected.

The news of the test leaked out a year later.   Detailed reports were published, and everyone congratulated themselves on an experiment well-done.  Christofilos went on to lead an equally grandiose but actually useful project, the gigantic Ground Dipole Antenna for using 80 Hz radio waves to communicate with submarines.  York became chancellor of UCSD, and later helped negotiate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Yet no one seemed to have stopped to think this through.   Unless you did a lot more testing, how could you be sure this would have any effect on ICBMs?   And how was that supposed to happen when atmospheric testing was both poisoning the planet and illegal?    Even if this did work, the Van Allen belts start at about 500 miles up, and ICBMs can easily fly below that.   Were they seriously thinking of spending extremely expensive H-bombs and rockets for something that could be dodged with a guidance tweak?   And are warheads that enter the atmosphere at several miles per second really going to be bothered by a couple of minutes of radiation exposure?    A nuclear bomb is pretty radioactive to begin with, so shielding the ignition mechanism and timer wouldn’t be hard.

Still, the coolness factor reigned.   We’re going to build nuke shields in space, with gigantic bombs that light up the sky.   It got the new Agency started with a literal bang.   They got a lot of support after that, although not for projects as spectacular as this.

And nuclear defense is still a gigantic grift.   The US has spent a total of $250 billion on it (see US Missile Defense Spending 1985 to 2017) in 2017 dollars between Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative of 1985 and the present-day Missile Defense Agency.   It’s budget is half the size of all of NASA’s, and it can still be defeated with decoys.  Nuclear weapons really are apocalyptic, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they make researchers and politicians lose their minds.

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Mad Science #1 – Soviet Space Station Rayguns

I’ve been reading a lot of juicy stories about completely crazed projects recently, so I’d like to pass some on.  These were projects that made sense to someone at the time, but were really awful ideas, ones that you can be glad you were never involved with.  They should really be called Mad Engineering instead of Mad Science, but unfortunately that evokes images of angry guys with pocket protectors.   They call them Rocket Scientists after all, because that’s cooler than Rocket Engineers.

So let me set a few qualification rules up front.  A Mad Science project has to be:

  • Dangerous – Otherwise we don’t care.
  • Stupid – ’cause that’s what makes them mad.  It clearly wasn’t stupid to the people involved, but everything looks sensible if you work on it for long enough.
  • Actually done, not just proposed.  The Orion fission-bomb-propelled spaceship would certainly qualify, but was sadly and fortunately never built.
  • Unfamiliar, at least to me.   Well-known stories, like the Babylon Gun that Gerald Bull was building for Saddam Hussein before he (Bull) was assassinated, are already well described.

That said, let me start with a story from Atomic Adventures (2017) by James Mahaffey.   He was a nuclear physicist at Georgia Tech, and has been putting down lots of great stuff in a series of recent books.   This particular device wasn’t nuclear, but was an actual laser pistol that the Soviets built to defend their space stations against attacks by the US Space Shuttle:

Exhibit at the Peter the Great Military Academy in Moscow

It was first revealed in English by English Russia in 2013, but Mahaffey gives a much more detailed description.

The Soviets have always armed their cosmonauts, starting with a pistol that Yuri Gagarin carried.   Somehow the NRA has never done the same to Americans – the most they ever carried were knives.   The Soviets said that the guns were in case a capsule landed in a wolf-filled wilderness.   Wolves do actually roam the lonely steppes of Kazahkstan, where the capsules land, and are even used to guard villages there, so maybe that was a legitimate worry.

By the time of the Mir space station in the 1980s, they were getting worried about the US Space Shuttle.   This was the era of the belligerent Ronald Reagan, who actually did arm mercenaries to attack Soviet clients in Nicaragua and Angola.  What could they do if he decided to take over Mir?   You sure don’t want use a gun in orbit, since that can open you to vacuum and knock you about with the recoil.

A laser would be perfect, but they’re too bulky.   The solution was to use several meters of optical fiber as the lasing medium.   They wound it into a spool inside the barrel, and the end came out the muzzle.  The laser was pumped by a flash bulb in the middle of the spool.  The bulb was filled with zirconium metal in pure oxygen, so the whole thing would work in a vacuum for EVA fights.   Old-fashioned flash bulbs used magnesium, but zirconium gives three times as much light per weight, and its spectrum can be tuned to match the resonant wavelength of the fiber optic.   The bulb was ignited by a tungsten-rhenium wire coated with pyrotechnic paste.  It was set off by a voltage from a piezoelectric crystal when it was hit by the gun’s hammer.   A magazine carried 8 flash bulbs, so you just ejected one to use the next.   They were also apparently working on a revolver variant that could probably fire faster.

So why was this stupid?  Because you can’t really put out much energy this way.  It’s unlikely that you could even hole someone’s suit, especially if it was reflective.   Maybe you could blind them, but helmets are mirrored too.  Lasers just aren’t that efficient in converting their input energy into a destructive output, unlike guns.   There have been a number of laser weapon projects, and they’ve almost all been cancelled for being too energy-hungry, big, and expensive.   The only one left is the HELLADS anti-missile system, and after 10 years of work it’s just getting field trials now, 30 years after this work.

The Soviet effort stopped when the country did in 1989.    The Russians ultimately invited the Americans onto Mir, and they’ve been a prime contributor to the International Space Station.    Space piracy just isn’t a concern any more.   But even when it had been, a  cutlass would have been a lot more effective weapon than a raygun.  As much as we love the idea of blasters, sometimes the old ways are the best.

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The Least Substantial Lasts Longest

A few days ago a friend noted that this was the 40th anniversary of the VAX computer line, one of the most successful and most criticized machines ever.   Its first model was the VAX 11/780, which was announced on Oct 25th, 1977.  Even though the last VAX was built in 2000, its software and its operating system, VMS, are still in regular use.   Somehow it still persists when the tens of thousands of tons of its hardware have been junked.   The completely insubstantial bits of its binaries have outlasted the silicon, fiberglass, and steel that used to run it.

My ISCA 2013 - 40th International Symposium on Computer Architecture

Its code name was STAR. Click for link to good history of VAXen.

A VAX was my very first project out of school.  I worked on the fourth model, the 8200/8300, from 1981 to ’84.   I had done some chip design for my master’s, so somehow I got assigned to the first microprocessor version of the line.    There were 10 of us on the main chip, the V-11 IE chip, and most were greenhorns like me.   No one else in the company knew much about this MOS stuff.   The previous versions had all been built with small digital chips and so were the size of refrigerators.   Really expensive refrigerators – the 11/780 started at $120,000 (about $500,000 today) and went to the moon from there.  Our job was to boil all that down to a single 8″ x 8″ card.

We designed each gate by hand.   That is, we drew schematics for all the logic and specified the size of each transistor manually.   Repeated logic  only had to be drawn once, fortunately.  This may sound mind-numbing, but was actually pretty fun, since it was a game to see how small and simple each function could be made.  A different group wrote programs to turn our drawings into lists of transistors and into models that could be simulated for debugging.  This was the result:

V-11 IE chip photograph. 3 um NMOS, 5 MHz, 9×9 mm, 60K transistors, 5W. I did the stuff in the upper right corner. Click for description.

The simulations took forever to run even on these small blocks.  I was into juggling at the time, and so killed time by practicing and teaching others how to do it.  You could look out over the sea of cubicles and see the balls going up and down.  The actual schematics were drawn on a VT100 terminal with a special graphics card.  They overheated all the time, and so we would also regularly see wisps of smoke rise above the cubicle walls.

The V-11 turned out to be a minor part of the VAX line, but it did get used as the basis for the MicroVAX II, the first single-chip VAX microprocessor.  That brought the line down to desktop size, and under $20,000, and the company sold billions of dollars of them.  In a better world it would have been the basis for the PC, as it was far more reliable and capable than Intel’s chips and Microsoft’s OSes.   It did spawn four other VAX micro designs – CVAX, Rigel, Mariah, and NVAX.  The last was scaled up to 133 MHz in 0.5 um CMOS by 1994, but it was the end of the line.

My own contribution to the VAX was to kill off PDP-11 compatibility mode.  When the first VAX came out, it could still execute programs from the previous major line, the PDP-11 series.  The VAX instruction set was so complex that it needed microcode to interpret it anyway, so supporting the old opcodes wasn’t much work.  By the time I was working on the instruction decode, almost everyone had switched to using native VAX instructions.  I looked at the PDP-11 codes and told my manager “We can do it, but it’s kind of annoying.” He reported to his manager “Compatibility mode is delaying the schedule!”  He told his “Compatibility mode is threatening the project!”  Then he told his “Supporting this mode is damaging the VAX line!”  and so the gods decreed that it wasn’t necessary.

Yet the VAX instruction set itself was never meant to be executed directly.  It was designed to be a simple, complete interface between the compiler and OS and any form of hardware.  That made it slow to actually execute, and it became a target and butt of ridicule for every up and coming computer architect.   Yet that’s how it now exists – as emulations on top of x86 or ARM processors.  The architect of the MicroVAX II, Bob Supnik, wrote a thorough, fast program that interprets the VAX’s instruction bytes, and offers it at  One guy used that to implement a full VAX on a Raspberry Pi hobbyist board – one small enough to fit inside a model of the 11/780:

A working VAX 11 780 – revisited – blog@4x

Click for link

It’s 150,000 times smaller, and probably the same speed.  There’s also a commercial builder, The Logical Company, that makes complete systems:

Click for link

These run their own emulator on top of an x86 processor, along with a real-time operating system that can handle all the timing for Qbus peripherals. If you’re a military or industrial customer who still needs to interface to old machinery and run binaries, just drop one of these in.

There’s even a company that supports OpenVMS, the VAX’s bulletproof, perfectly multi-processor operating system, VMS Software Inc.  They have the source, and have ported it to all sorts of other platforms.   They recently held a boot camp to introduce new programmers to the pleasures of a well-built OS.

It all reminds me of a talk that I heard at DEC from Charles Bigelow, the font designer.  He devised Lucida, WingDings, and a lot of the Apple TrueType fonts.  Having chip designers learn about fonts might seem irrelevant to the company’s business, but that’s the sort of thing DEC did.   Bigelow noted that modern people have almost nothing in common with the Romans.   We don’t dress as they did, or build our houses the same way, or eat the same things or even use the same tableware.  But we do use their letter forms.  We can still read their inscriptions 2300 years later.  The same goes for Hebrew and Chinese. This most evanescent thing, the shape of a letter, has outlasted practically everything else about the Romans.  The even more evanescent VAX instruction set has outlasted all of its hardware and DEC itself.  Useful abstractions like letterforms and opcodes can live forever.

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Who Are the World’s Leading EEs?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) is the world’s largest technical society, with about 420,000 members.   Although founded in the US in 1884, over half its members are international.   Its highest rank is Fellow, which can only be achieved by getting 13 other Fellows to nominate you.  That makes it a pretty good estimate of the leading electrical engineers in the world.

The IEEE doesn’t expose a single list of them, but does scatter a lot of data about them across its website.  I’ve collated data from there into this spreadsheet – IEEE Fellow Stats.  Let me try to answer some questions about them:

Q: How many are there?

About 10,000 have achieved this rank, of whom about 800 are known to be deceased.  The earliest was  E. Weber in 1934.  About 300 new Fellows are elevated a year out of a voting membership of 340K.  Of those 300, about 160 are American, a little over 50%. About 10% are women.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there were 400K US electrical engineers in 2016, including occupation codes 17-2071, 17-2072, and 17-2061.   That would make about 40% of them IEEE members.  There have been about 3000 US Fellows elevated since 1999, which would be ~0.7% of the total in the field.   Here’s a 1% one can be proud to belong to!

Q: Are there any I would know?

  • Jack Kilby (1966) – co-inventor with Robert Noyce of the integrated circuit and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics
  • Gordon Moore (1968) – co-founder, again with Noyce, of Intel, and author of Moore’s Law, which has driven our industry for fifty years
  • Andy Grove (1972) – president of Intel during its formative years, and one of the creators of Silicon Valley
  • Paul E. Gray (1972) – president of MIT, and author of the definitive textbook on transistor circuits
  • John Hennessey (1991) – president of Stanford, and co-creator of RISC computing
  • Andrew Viterbi (1973), co-founder of Qualcomm, and inventor of Viterbi coding, which is used in all cellphones
  • Ray Dolby (2010) – founder of Dolby Labs, and inventor of noise removal schemes used on every medium since cassette tapes

Q: Where do they live?

The IEEE breaks the world into regions, which look like this:

Region Region name Region main states Fellows 2016
1 US Northeast NY,NJ,MA 39
2 US East PA,OH 19
3 US Southeast FL,GA,VA 19
4 US Central MI,IL,MN 20
5 US Southwest TX,CO 26
6 US West CA,OR,WA,AZ 38
7 Canada ON,BC 10
8 Europe, Middle East, Africa UK,DE,FR,NL,IS 65
9 Latin America MX,CL,AR 3
10 Asia and Pacific CH,JP,TW,HK,AU 58

They occasionally cite a Region 11, Low Earth Orbit, but that’s not heavily populated, yet.  Europe got the most here, followed by Asia, the US Northeast, and US West.

If we break this down more finely for the last five years:

Fellow Elevations 2012-2016
US States Non-US Countries
California 165 Japan 69
New York 73 Canada 62
Texas 60 Italy 56
Massachusetts 49 UK 56
Pennsylvania 45 China 55
New Jersey 37 Australia 37
Virginia 35 Hong Kong 36
North Carolina 30 Taiwan 34
Michigan 28 Germany 32
Illinois 26 France 28
Georgia 24 India 23
Washington 23 Switzerland 21
Maryland 22 South Korea 20
Florida 21 Spain 18
Arizona 19 Netherlands 16
Colorado 18 Singapore 16
Ohio 17 Belgium 15
Indiana 16 Sweden 12
New Mexico 13 Austria 8
Tennessee 12 Israel 8
Oregon 11 Brazil 7
Minnesota 9 Portugal 6
District of Columbia 8 Greece 6
Utah 8 Poland 5
Missouri 8 Ireland 4
Wisconsin 8 Denmark 4
Iowa 8 Turkey 4
Connecticut 6 South Africa 3
New Hampshire 5 Mexico 3
Alabama 5 New Zealand 2
Kansas 4 Norway 2
Idaho 3 Finland 2
Hawaii 3 Macedonia 1
Nebraska 2 Macao 1
Kentucky 2 Uruguay 1
Vermont 2 Romania 1
Oklahoma 2 Malaysia 1
South Carolina 2 Lebanon 1
Rhode Island 2 Iran 1
Delaware 1 Hungary 1
Mississippi 1 Montenegro 1
Louisiana 1 Qatar 1
Maine 1
USA total 836 Other total 680

Pennsylvania does better than I expected, as does Italy.   Among US states, Washington DC has the most per-capita (14.1 / million), followed by Massachusetts (7.6), New Mexico (6.3) and California (4.5).   Among countries, Hong Kong has the most per capita (5.0), followed by Singapore (2.9), Switzerland (2.6), Canada (1.7), and Australia (1.6).  It’s surprising to see no one here from Russia, but they do have IEEE chapters there, so their time will come.

To narrow it down even further, the top five places for Fellows are:

  • Tokyo, Japan – 24
  • Beijing, China – 23
  • Atlanta, GA, USA – 20
  • Cambridge, MA, USA – 19
  • Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 18
  • Yorktown Heights, NY, USA – 18

Q: When do they tend to get elevated?

Here’s the breakdown by age for 2016:

Ages 31 -39 40 -44 45 -49 50 -54 55 -59 60 -64 65 -69 70 -76 77 -85 85+ Not Given
# 6 39 64 66 55 31 10 4 3 2 17

I have to admire the energy of the five 77+ Fellows!  The average and median age is about 53.   That means it takes about 30 years of work after one’s bachelor degree to hit this rank.

Q: Where do they work?

Here are the top institutions mentioned in the elevation citations:

Fellows Elevated by Institution 2012-2016
Companies Schools Other
27 IBM 56 U. California 9 None listed
18 Intel 24 U. Texas 8 NASA
12 Microsoft Research 19 Georgia  Tech 5 INRIA
10 Alcatel/Bell Labs 17 MIT 5 Consultant
8 Broadcom 15 Hong Kong University 5 NIST
6 NTT 13 Texas A&M University 4 Sandia National Laboratories
6 General Electric 11 Tsinghua University 3 Naval Research Laboratory
6 Hewlett-Packard 11 Arizona State U 3 US Army Research Office
5 Siemens 9 National Chiao Tung  U 2 IMEC
4 Texas Instruments 9 Stanford University 2 ISO New England
4 Huawei 9 Purdue University 2 Telecom ParisTech
4 Lockheed Martin 8 USC 2 EPRI
3 Hitachi 8 Seoul National U 2 German Aerospace Center (DLR)
3 Analog Devices 8 U Michigan
3 Google Inc 8 Iowa State University
3 Quanta Technology 8 Boston University
3 Qualcomm 7 University of Florida
3 Toshiba 7 Imperial College

IBM and the University of California rule.  The smallest companies listed are Quanta Technology, which does utility R&D, and Analog Devices, which makes a wide range of analog interface chips and DSPs.  The schools are all familiar, except for Hong Kong University.  Arizona State, Iowa State and Imperial College show well.   NASA is where it should be.  Nine people had no affiliation and 5 were just consultants.

Q: Big takeaway?

Talent is everywhere.  It’s in Wyoming, and Qatar, and Montenegro.  Some places, like IBM, have an abundance of it, but you can find it all over the world.


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Recent Posts on Let’s See This Work

I’ve been putting movie-related posts over on  this other blog, Let’s See This Work.   Here are some you might like:

Stats on the Most Influential Effects Movies – When were these made and who did them?

“The Founder” as Design vs Finance – The McDonald brothers versus Ray Kroc.

“Hidden Figures” and Attaining One’s Fullest Stature – the American Dream at NASA.

“Joy” – anti-STEM for Women – One of the world’s leading actresses conveys the worst impression of what it’s like to be an inventor.

“Sully” As a Good Omen – The Miracle of the Hudson was a sign of better times to come.



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