Hung C. 'Jimmy' Lin, 89

Hung C. 'Jimmy' Lin; U-Md. Professor, Inventor

Hung C.
Hung C. "Jimmy" Lin invented circuitry used in sound equipment, headphones, cordless microphones and digital thermometers. (Family Photo)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hung C. "Jimmy" Lin, an electrical engineer who invented components that are commonly used in solid-state amplifiers, audio speakers, microphones and headphones, died March 5 of lung cancer at Holy Cross Hospital. He was 89 and lived in Silver Spring.

Dr. Lin was a research engineer for RCA, CBS and Westinghouse before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland in 1969. He held more than 60 U.S. patents and made many advances in semiconductor and integrated circuit technology. He invented circuitry that is used in everything from electronic thermometers to cordless microphones.

"I would say he was the premier analog design engineer of our time," said Martin Peckerar, a University of Maryland colleague.

In 1950, not long after leaving his native China, Dr. Lin became one of the first scientists at RCA's laboratories in New Jersey to work on the development of transistor circuits. He was credited with recognizing the importance of regulating temperature to maintain a steady flow of electrical current within transistors. This development helped lead to one of his early inventions, the cordless "roving" microphone that is now used widely in broadcasting.

Among engineers, Dr. Lin was better known for his invention of the lateral transistor, a crucial component in the "level shifter," a key part of every solid-state amplifier found in modern audio systems. He also invented the output driver, or the circuit that controls the production of sound in stereo speakers.

Dr. Lin's invention of the lateral transistor evolved from a $5 bet he made with his boss at Westinghouse when he was working on components for the Minuteman missile in the early 1960s. For that development, now universally used in integrated circuits, he received the 1978 J.J. Ebers Award of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

His other inventions included the "active noise cancellation" circuits that allowed for the development of noise-canceling headphones and other popular electronic devices.

Hung Chang Lin was born Aug. 8, 1919, in Shanghai and graduated in 1941 from Shanghai's Chiao Tung University, which he attended on a tennis scholarship. He was an engineer for Chinese radio and broadcasting companies before coming to the United States in 1947. He received a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1948 and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now part of New York University) in 1956.

Dr. Lin wrote hundreds of scientific papers, and his book "Integrated Electronics," first published in 1967, is a standard textbook in the field. He was the co-author of three other books and was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

After working for 20 years as a research scientist, Dr. Lin joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1969. In 21 years as a full-time professor, he missed only one class. He supervised 26 PhD students, many of whom have become international leaders in engineering, circuitry design and microelectronics.

"He was a great professor," said Peckerar, who received his doctorate under Dr. Lin's direction. "What Jimmy tried to do was get us all to think deeply about a problem and the ideas one would have to master to move the field forward. Jimmy was a master of that kind of technique."

In 1990, Dr. Lin was inducted into the Innovation Hall of Fame at the university's Clark School of Engineering. He continued to mentor students well past his official retirement in 1990.

Outside his professional work, Dr. Lin enjoyed tennis and dancing.

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Anchen Lin of Silver Spring; two sons, Dr. Robert Lin of New York City and Daniel Lin of Hong Kong; three sisters; two brothers; and three grandchildren.

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