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Bernard Oliver

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Bernard Oliver: Biography

Born: 1916

Died: 23 November 1995


Dr. Bernard Oliver was born in Soquel, California. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a teacher, both held degrees from UC Berkeley. Oliver's mother took him with her to school while she taught.  This was one reason, among others, that he skipped several grades and finished high school at age 15.  After some study at California Institute of Technology, an interest in working with Frederick Terman drew Oliver to Stanford, where he graduated at the age of 19. He then returned to California Institute of Technology, where he received his doctorate in 1940.


He began his career at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York. He initially worked on television, but later turned his attentions to radar development as America became involved in World War II. He also did work with Claude Shannon on pulse-code modulation.  Barney enjoyed his twelve years of work at Bell Labs, and he initially declined an offer from fellow Stanford alumni William Hewlett and David Packard to join their growing electronics company in Palo Alto. However in 1952, Oliver returned to northern California and joined Hewlett-Packard as the Director of Research. In 1957, he was named Vice President for R&D, and joined HP's Board of Directors. Under his leadership the first hand-held calculators were produced at Hewlett-Packard in the early 1970's. He retired from full-time work at HP after 28 years there, but continued to serve as a consultant.


Oliver also had important side interests. He founded Biosys, a company specializing in agriculture. Oliver became well known for his strong an interest in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). In 1971, NASA funded a SETI study that involved Oliver and John Billingham. The resulting report proposed the construction of an Earth-based radio telescope array with 1,500 dishes known as "Project Cyclops". While the telescope was not built, the report formed the basis of much SETI work that followed.


Dr. Oliver also enjoyed art, music and literature. He served with distinction on the Palo Alto School Board for twelve years and acted as an advisor for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. He also quietly made significant financial contributions to educational and scientific institutions, such as UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Allegheny Observatory at the University of Pittsburgh.


Barney held over sixty patents and authored many technical papers. He received many honors, including the 1986 National Medal of Science. Oliver was president of the IEEE in 1965.


He died on November 23, 1995.

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