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Ross Macdonald

(Massachusetts & New College 1948) (27 February 1923 - 30 March 2024)

James Ross Macdonald was awarded a four-year Tyng Scholarship during his freshman year at Williams College and won the freshman Pentathlon, which led to his immediate membership on the varsity swimming team. At the beginning of 1943, he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts where, in a special wartime program, he was awarded an SB in Electrical Engineering from MIT in February 1944 and a BA in Physics in June of that year from Williams.

He joined the U.S. Navy in 1944, trained as a radio-radar officer and was preparing to go with a night-fighter air squadron to the Pacific war theater when the war there ended in 1945. After marrying Margaret Milward Taylor in 1946, he returned to MIT, where he worked on Project Whirlwind, an early vacuum-tube, room-size computer. He received the SM degree in Electrical Engineering in 1947 from MIT.

That year, after starting a PhD program in physics at MIT, he applied for and won a Rhodes Scholarship from Massachusetts to attend New College, Oxford University. He and his wife were in Oxford from 1948-1950, and he received a D.Phil. degree from Oxford in condensed-matter physics in 1950.

After carrying out physics research at Armour Research Foundation and Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago from 1950 to 1953, he joined Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas, near the beginning of its very successful silicon transistor development program. He subsequently became the Director of the Physics Research Laboratory, the Central Research Laboratories, and finally Vice President for Research and Engineering in 1968.

In 1967 he was awarded a D.Sc. degree from Oxford for his published research done since graduation. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1970 and in 1973 to the National Academy of Sciences, one of only fifty members of both academies at that time. Upon taking early retirement from Texas Instruments in 1974, he joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics. He took emeritus status there in 1989.

Both as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the National Academy of Engineering he served on many government advisory committees and university visiting committees and was a member of the NAS Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources. In 1986 he received the George E. Pake Prize of the American Physical Society, an award for combining original research accomplishments with leadership in the management of research in industry.

Dr. Macdonald was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, served on many of its committees, and was the recipient of several awards from the IEEE and its predecessor, the Institute of Radio Engineers. He was awarded the 1988 IEEE Edison Gold Medal “for seminal contributions to solid state science and technology, and outstanding leadership as a research director.”

During his years at UNC, in addition to his productive teaching and research activities, he and his associates developed LEVM, an important computer-oriented immittance- spectroscopy data analysis program which he continued to improve and keep up to date after his retirement. It has been freely available since 1990, and its current version, LEVMW, involving the possibility of errors in both real and imaginary data, is used around the world by thousands of scientists, engineers, and students in many fields.

After retirement from UNC, he continued writing papers and reviewing many more for various journals and took the position of reviewer very seriously. His love of research, as well as a facility with words, led him to a prolific research career with 10 patents and over 255 papers published in refereed scientific journals. This work, as well as a pioneering 1987 book he edited and contributed to on Impedance Spectroscopy, and his continuing help to students and colleagues around the world in using LEVM/LEVMW for data analysis, resulted in international recognition for his experimental and theoretical contributions to condensed matter physics, electrochemistry, and to data analysis. He is also a published poet.

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, the Electrochemical Society, and the Audio Engineering Society. He participated in many civic organizations, particularly in Dallas, TX, and was a Wilson Fellow of the University of North Carolina Library.