Robert Adler

Robert Adler – Scientist, Engineer, Teacher, and Inventor 1913 – 2007

The ultrasonics community lost one of its most prolific inventors when Robert Adler passed away on 15 February 2007 in Boise, Idaho USA at the age of 93. His loss marks the culmination of an illustrious career spanning seven decades that led to pioneering contributions in vacuum tubes, ultrasonics, acoustooptical interactions, and surface acoustic waves and their applications to the electronics industry, consumer electronics, and communications equipment.

Robert Adler was born in Vienna in 1913. After receiving his doctorate in physics in 1937 from the University of Vienna, Austria, he became engaged in patent work there, and later went to England. After the war broke out, he came to Chicago and worked first in the field of measuring instruments. He joined Zenith Radio Corporation in 1941. Ten years later he was made Associate Director of Research, Vice President in 1959, and Director of Research in 1963.

In addition to his own research, in the thirty-seven years after he joined the research group at Zenith, he played an increasingly important role in forging one of the great industrial research teams in the U.S., at times numbering more than three hundred people. When economic exigencies compelled a drastic retrenching of this activity, rather than preside over it, Adler resigned his post in 1978. He became Vice President of Research of the Extel Corporation in Northbrook, Illinois until 1982. Always committed to the continuing education of engineers, Adler was also adjunct professor of electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

Never one to actually retire, Dr. Adler remained a technical consultant primarily with Zenith, until 1999 when Zenith merged with LG Electronics Inc., and Elo TouchSystems.

His early work was concentrated in new types of vacuum tubes, including the phasitron modulator used in early FM transmitters, receiving tubes for FM detection and color demodulation, transverse-field traveling wave tubes, and the electron beam parametric amplifier. His numerous contributions to ultrasonics technology include the first electromechanical IF filter and the development of ultrasonic remote control devices for television receivers which remained in use until about 1980 when infrared LEDs and phototransisters replaced ultrasound. He was active in the fields of acoustoopitcal interaction (light deflectors for image scanning), acoustic surface waves (filters and amplifiers) and the optical video disc. His recent work has largely been in the field of display devices and touch systems for displays employing surface acoustic waves.

Dr. Adler developed the gated-beam tube which represented a new concept in receiving tubes. His noise-gated synch clipper and automatic gain control secured stability of television reception in the fringe areas. His contribution to low-noise traveling-wave tubes was important in military communications. Later he applied the new principle of parametric amplification to electron beams which was at the time the most sensitive practical amplifier for ultra high frequency (UHF) signals. It was used by radio astronomers in the United States and abroad.

Electromechanical devices always interested Adler. During World War II he worked on high-frequency magnetostrictive oscillators. Remote control of television receivers by an ultrasonic gong grew out of this work. Interest in the interaction between light and ultrasound led to new ways of deflecting and modulating laser beams, using Bragg diffraction for television displays and in high-speed printing. Adler pioneered the use of surface acoustic waves in intermediate frequency filters for color television, a technology that has since become universal, not only in television but as an essential building block of cellular telephone handsets. Concurrently he devoted attention to optical video disc players.

Dr. Adler also pioneered the use of surface acoustic wave (SAW) technology for touch screens. Since the early 1990s, as a consultant to Elo TouchSystems, he actively contributed to the commercialization and further innovation of his SAW touch screen invention.

A prolific inventor with a seemingly never-ending thirst for knowledge, his pioneering developments spanned from the Golden Age of Television into the High-Definition Era, earning him more than 180 U.S. patents. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published his most recent patent application, for advances in touch-screen technology, on 1 February 2007.

“Bob Adler was an unparalleled technical contributor, leader, adviser and teacher,” said Jerry K. Pearlman, retired Zenith chairman and CEO, who knew Dr. Adler for 35 years. “His gifts and passions were many, his mentoring matchless and his ego totally nonexistent.”

In 1951, Dr. Adler became a Fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers (now IEEE) “for his development of transmission and detection devices for frequency modulated signals and of electro-mechanical filter systems.” He received the IEEE Outstanding Technical Achievement Award in 1958 for his “original work on ultrasonic remote controls” for television, the Inventor of the Year award from George Washington University in 1967, the IEEE Outstanding Achievement Award in Consumer Electronics in 1970, the Outstanding Technical Paper Award from the Chicago Section of the IEEE in 1974 for his report on “An Optical Video Disc Player for NTSC Receivers,” representing early work in what was to become the digital video disc or DVD. He was the recipient of the IEEE Edison Medal in 1980 “For many inventions in the fields of electronic beam tubes and ultrasonic devices, and for leadership in innovative research and development.” In 1981, he received the IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society Achievement Award for “insight, innovation, and leadership given to ultrasonics technology.”

Together with Eugene Polley and other Zenith engineers, he was honored in 1997 by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with an Emmy award for Zenith’s introduction of the first wireless TV remote controls 50 years ago. He was a charter inductee in the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame in 2000.

Also in 2000, Dr. Adler was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Chicago/Midwest Chapter’s “Silver Circle,” which recognizes “outstanding individuals who have devoted a quarter of a century or more to the television industry and have made a significant contribution to Chicago broadcasting.” He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

A lover of the arts, Dr. Adler was active in the Chicago cultural community for decades, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Masters of Baroque, and community theater. A world traveler for both business and pleasure, he was fluent in German, English and French. He was an active participant in a Chicago-area French Club for 35 years.

One incident that is characteristic of Robert Adler. When sent to Moscow as a member of the IEEE delegation to the Popov Society Meeting in 1969, he learned Russian so that, as a goodwill gesture to his hosts, he could present his paper in their language.

He was an avid reader. He loved his cats and laughter. He obtained his pilot license in the1950’s and was an enthusiastic flier. He was as passionate about hiking and skiing as he was about science and the arts. He was an avid downhill skier until age 89, and was still hiking in the past year.

Robert Adler is survived by his wife Ingrid (nee Koch) Adler.

[Editor’s Note: This biography was excerpted by Jan Brown from personal biographies written by Robert Adler over the years, two formal biographies written in 2000 and 2007 by John Taylor, LG Electronics USA, Inc., (Formerly, Zenith Electronics Corp.), the UFFC Archives, the IEEE History Center and a multitude of news stories found on the internet from all over the world.]