Paul Penfield, Jr.
Paul Penfield is Professor of Electrical Engineering,
Emeritus, in the
Paul Penfield, Jr.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
penfield [at] mit [dot] edu
A freshman course, under development for several years, presents the concepts of information and entropy in a way that gives students valuable models with which to interpret the world. Information is a fundamental quantity that, like energy, can be converted from one form to another, transmitted from one place to another, or stored for later use. One form of information (or its absence) in physical systems is known as entropy, a quantity that obeys one of the most profound and mysterious of all physical laws, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. By treating entropy as a form of information, we can make the Second Law accessible to freshmen. They see examples of reversible and irreversible processes in computation, communications, and thermodynamics. The first offering of the new course took place in Spring 2000, and for almost twenty years the course was offered jointly by the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. More information is available from the course notes for years between 2003 and 2014. Work on this project was informally but deliberately slowed down when, after retirement, Professor Penfield found it more important for him to provide caregiving support to his wife Barbara who was suffering from progressive dementia.
Professor Penfield was born May 28, 1933 in Detroit, Michigan. He received the B.A. degree (cum laude) in physics from Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts in 1955, and the Sc.D. degree in electrical engineering from MIT in 1960.
He joined the MIT faculty in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) in 1960. He served as Associate Head of the Department from 1974 to 1978, and as Director of the Microsystems Research Center from 1985 to 1989. From 1989 to 1999 he served as Head of the Department. He was Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Electrical Engineering from January, 2000 until his retirement in June, 2005.
His technical interests have included solid-state microwave devices and circuits, noise and thermodynamics, electrodynamics of moving media, circuit theory, computer-aided design, APL language extensions, integrated-circuit design automation, computer-aided fabrication of integrated circuits, and the equivalence of information and thermodynamic entropy.
Professor Penfield is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and former Chairman of the Boston Section. He received from IEEE the Centennial Medal in 1984, the Circuits and Systems Society Darlington Prize Paper Award in 1985, and the Circuits and Systems Society Golden Jubilee Award in 1999. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), Sigma Xi, the American Physical Society (APS), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and until recently the Audio Engineering Society (AES).
He is the author of five books and dozens of articles in his various fields of interest. He has been a consultant for many companies, and between 1980 and 1995 served as a Director of GenRad, Inc. During 1996-97 he served as President of the National Electrical Engineering Department Heads Association (NEEDHA) and in March, 2000 received its Outstanding Service Award. In 1998 he received the Fellow Award from the International Engineering Consortium (IEC). In 1998 he organized the Building 20 Commemoration, to remember and honor MIT's Building 20, for which he received the 1999 Presidential Citation from The Association of Alumni and Alumnae of MIT.
Professor Penfield lived in Weston, Massachusetts with his wife Martha where their three children grew up. After her untimely death in 1988 he remained in Weston with his second wife Barbara. In the years since her death from Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016 he has been serving the town as a member of its Rail Trail Advisory Committee.
Professor Penfield is a member of the American Fern Society and the Hardy Fern Foundation, and has a particular interest in field identification of ferns, fern allies, and fern hybrids.