Bernard J. Lechner, April 11, 2014
George H. Heilmeier, April 22, 2014

Bernard J. Lechner
Television and electronic display pioneer Bernard J. Lechner passed away Friday, April 11, 2014. He was 82. Mr. Lechner, known as Bernie to colleagues, friends, and family, was a Life Fellow and life-long active member of the Society for Information Display.

He is remembered for contributing to the development of flat-screen displays and HDTV standards in ways that influence these technologies to this day. Mr. Lechner began his career at RCA Laboratories in 1957. Fellow display pioneer George H. Heilmeier joined RCA a year later. (Mr. Heilmeier passed away on April 22, 2014.) After a team led by Heilmeier developed early liquid-crystal displays, Mr. Lechner joined these efforts with the intention of applying LCDs to TV screens. He eventually developed the technique that came to be called active-matrix addressing, employing thin-film transistors.

In 1971, SID made him the first recipient of the Frances Rice Darne Award for his outstanding technical achievements. In 1972, he was elected to the SID Board of Directors and subsequently served as Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President, and President. In 1983, he was named the first recipient of the Beatrice Winner Award for his contributions to SID. 

“I know that he was incredibly dedicated to and proud of his work with SID,” says Frances Nahas, Mr. Lechner’s niece. 

Mr. Lechner also worked closely with the Consumer Electronics Association as a member of the DTV Academy, a group of advisors addressing strategic implementation of the digital television (DTV) transition; and as a member of the DTV Definitions Technology working group, which helped establish terms and standards for DTV and HDTV. He chaired his first CEA standards group in 1980, and later guided the industry on the performance of analog cable-ready TVs. Mr. Lechner helped usher in the HDTV system in use today.

He was recognized numerous times by many different organizations for his significant contributions to display and television technology. In 2000 he was honored by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) as the first recipient of the ATSC Outstanding Contributor Award, now given annually in his name. In August 2011, the IEEE presented Mr. Lechner with the Jun-ichi Nishizawa Medal, to honor his early work on LCD technology for television pictures. He was also a life fellow of the IEEE and the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). 

Mr. Lechner was a member of the Army Signal Corps during the Korean War. Following his service, he earned his BSEE degree from Columbia University.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Joan M. Lechner of Newtown, PA., his sister, Patricia A. Nahas of Austin, Texas, and their families.

Information Display is indebted to these sources for the creation of this obituary:

George H. Heilmeier
Liquid-crystal pioneer George H. Heilmeier passed away on April 22, 2014, in Plano, Texas.

Dr. Heilmeier was born in Philadelphia in 1936. He received a bachelor of electrical engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1958 and upon graduation was recruited by RCA to join the company’s doctoral study award program in conjunction with Princeton University. This enabled him to complete his Ph.D. at Princeton in electrical engineering in 1962, while earning two master’s degrees along the way. He focused on parametric amplification, tunnel diode down-converters, millimeter wave generation, ferroelectric thin-film devices, organic semiconductors, and electro-optic effects in liquid crystals.

In the fall of 1964, he began experimenting with methods to produce a color display using liquid crystals. It was Dr. Heilmeier’s idea to “dope” host nematic liquid crystals with guest “dichroic dyes” to produce a color effect, which he dubbed the guest-host effect. Soon after this discovery, he and his colleagues discovered a technique to electrically switch a liquid-crystal cell from a transparent state to a highly scattering opaque state, which he called the dynamic scattering effect. Based on this effect, he and his team built the first liquid-crystal display that operated at or below room temperature in 1966. (While at RCA, Dr. Heilmeier worked with fellow display pioneer Bernard Lechner, who also passed away in April 2014.)

Dr. Heilmeier spent much of the 1970s in the United States Department of Defense. From 1970-71 he served as a White House Fellow and special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, performing long-range research and development planning. In 1971 he was appointed Assistant Director for Defense Research and Engineering, Electronic and Physical Sciences, overseeing all research and exploratory development in electronics and the physical sciences. In 1975 he was named Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and initiated major efforts in stealth aircraft, space-based lasers, space-based infrared technology, and artificial intelligence.

In December 1977, he left government to become Vice President at Texas Instruments; in 1983 he was promoted to Chief Technical Officer. From 1991-1996 he was president and CEO of Bellcore (now Telcordia), ultimately overseeing its sale to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). He served as the company's chairman and CEO from 1996-1997, and afterwards as its chairman emeritus.

Dr. Heilmeier received numerous awards, including the David Sarnoff Team Award in Science, Industrial Research Institute Medal, the National Academy of Engineering Founders Award, two Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medals, the IEEE Medal of Honor, the Kyoto Prize, the Draper Prize, and the National Medal of Science. He was also inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

On a personal note, I was privileged to be member of George’s team when we built the first liquid-crystal display. He was not only an outstanding team leader, but a trusted and valued mentor and friend over many years. I will sorely miss him.

--Joseph A. Castellano, Ph.D.