Paul Penfield

Paul Penfield, Jr.

D. C. Jackson Professor of Electrical Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT. Affiliated with the Microsystems Technology Laboratories.


When I was Head of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (September 1, 1989 - January 15, 1999) most of my efforts go into running the department, which is the largest at MIT. Some non-routine projects I was involved with during that period are described elsewhere.

Now that I am no longer Department Head, I am working on other projects, as described below.

1. New Freshman Course on Information and Entropy

A freshman course, now under development, will present the concepts of information and entropy in a way that will give students a valuable model 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 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 will see examples of reversible and irreversible processes in computation, communications, and thermodynamics. The first offering of the new course took place in Spring 2000. More information is available from the course home page.

2. Department Web Site

The EECS department Web pages, starting with our home page, are an important means of communication among members of the department, and with the larger outside community. Publishing on the Web serves three purposes:

  1. Internal Communication, including statements of department policies and procedures, department news, information about forthcoming events, and a simple accessible bank of department facts.
  2. Public Relations, in the best sense of the word, telling the world about us, who we are, what we do, and why we do it.
  3. Information Resource, for the benefit of all who want to find out more about the department.

I am continuing to drive the development of our department's Web pages. During the summer of 2000 the site was revamped thoroughly (except for the archive pages which were not changed), and given a new appearance.

Responsibility for maintaining the content of the site is gradually shifting to a larger group of people, as software tools to automate the maintenance get written. Currently most of the dynamic resources are maintained by various department staff members.

3. Other Web Sites

The tools that have been developed to maintain the department Web site have been ported to many Web sites that I have been involved with, including


During the 1996-97 academic year I served as President of the National Electrical Engineering Department Heads Association, NEEDHA. My term on the NEEDHA Board expired June 30, 1999. I have been active in establishing and maintaining the NEEDHA Web site. This site features an on-line directory maintained by office staff and NEEDHA members, and an automatically updated e-mail list. Responsibility for the site has been turned over to another NEEDHA member, but I continue to maintain the CGI scripts which are in daily use for the directory and the e-mail list.

4. Penfield Cottage Septic System


The Penfield Cottage, in the Adirondack State Park in upstate New York, has been in my family since my grandparents bought it in 1912. It includes three buildings with facilities to accommodate over 30 people. It is located on a lake, and is used by all my grandparent's descendants, now numbering about 150, every summer.

New environmental standards together with the aging, fragile nature of our former septic system, called for the design and construction of a new system. Because of the location on a lake, the shape of the property, and the number of bedrooms, the design was not straightforward. I was the family member who worked with the engineer and the contractor to see that the project was completed during spring 1995.

The telemetry system includes the capability to sense the state of the system (which float switches are on, and which pumps are energized), store the data, and transfer it to a host computer. Web pages that show some aspects of the design, and statistics of usage, are planned.

URL of this page:
Created: Dec 9, 1994  |  Modified: Sep 15, 2000
Related page: prior projects of Paul Penfield
Site map  |  To Paul Penfield's home page  |  Your comments are welcome.