PARC founder George Pake dies

Dr. George E. Pake, the founder of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, passed away on March 4, 2004 after a prolonged illness. The world lost a preeminent research leader, an accomplished scientist, and an extraordinary human being. Dr. Pake is best known for leading the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from its inception in 1970 until 1978 and overseeing Xerox Corporate Research from 1978-1986. He was responsible for fashioning an institution whose unique and enduring culture spawned such innovations as laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface, client-server architecture and many of the ideas that define modern computing.

From PARC:

PARC founder George Pake dies


Dr. George E. Pake, the founder of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, passed away on March 4, 2004 after a prolonged illness. The world lost a preeminent research leader, an accomplished scientist, and an extraordinary human being.

Dr. Pake is best known for leading the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from its inception in 1970 until 1978 and overseeing Xerox Corporate Research from 1978-1986. He was responsible for fashioning an institution whose unique and enduring culture spawned such innovations as laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface, client-server architecture and many of the ideas that define modern computing.

In a 1985 IEEE Spectrum article, Dr. Pake examined the factors that had made PARC successful — hiring the best and most creative researchers, emulating the environment found at the best universities, allowing researchers the opportunity to initiate and recommend areas of inquiry and tuning research direction through “selective budgetary preferences.” Indeed, his progressive management style came to be a model for industrial research and has, in the past decade, been adopted more broadly within general corporate management. In his own words:

“Little success is likely to come from showing researchers to a laboratory, describing in detail a desired technology or process not now existent, and commanding: ‘Invent!’ The enterprise will go better if some overall goals or needs are generally described and understood and if proposals for research are solicited from the creative professionals. Managing the research then consists of adjusting the budgets for the programs to give selective encouragement.”

President Ronald Reagan awarded Dr. Pake the National Medal of Science in 1987 for “his commitment to creative excellence in support of institutional purpose.” In 1983, the American Physical Society, for which Pake was President (1977) and Vice-President (1976) established the George E. Pake Prize, an award to recognize and encourage outstanding work by physicists combining original research accomplishments with leadership in management of research or development in industry. In the same year, he was honored with the Search Award of the Eliot Society, Washington University in St. Louis.

After retiring from Xerox Corporation in 1986, Dr. Pake founded the Institute for Research on Learning, with backing from Xerox Corporation. The Institute viewed learning as a fundamentally social activity. Here, his projects were about making science and mathematics a positive, hands-on learning experience between teachers and students.

Between 1948 and 1967, Dr. Pake served in university posts with Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri and Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. He was executive vice chancellor and provost, and professor of physics at Washington University from 1967-1969. In 1969, the university named him Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of physics. During this period, he was appointed to President Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, on which he served during both the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Dr. Pake received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) in 1945 and his PhD from Harvard University in 1948. Over his career, he was recognized with honorary degrees from the University of Missouri at Rolla, Carnegie Institute of Technology and Kent State University.

His doctoral thesis focused on a phenomenon involving the magnetic interaction of two closely spaced nuclear magnets, a theory that later became known as “Pake doublets.” His research on nuclear magnetic resonance physics in the 1940s helped others later develop magnetic resonance imaging, an important non-invasive imaging technique used by the medical profession. He was author or co-author of three books and published more than 50 papers.

Dr. Pake was born in Jeffersonville, Ohio in 1924 and is survived by his wife and four children.

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