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ROBERT J. SPINRAD

1932–2009

Elected in 1993

“For contributions to the application of computers to data acquisition, analysis, and control for scientific experiments.”

BY JOEL S. BIRNBAUM

ROBERT J. SPINRAD, a computer pioneer and one of the fathers of modern laboratory automation, died on September 2, 2009, of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) at his home in Palo Alto, California. He was 77 years old.

Born in Manhattan, New York, on March 20, 1932, Spinrad attended the Bronx High School of Science, where, in addition to whetting his already burgeoning interest in science and engineering, he met fellow student Verna Winderman; the high school sweethearts were wed in June 1954 and were married for 55 years. He is survived by Verna, two children, and three grandchildren.

Bob attended the Columbia University School of Engineering, receiving a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1953. He was a regents scholar and the student council president, and in his senior year he built his own computer from discarded telephone switching equipment. Computer science was not yet part of the curriculum, and most people had no interest in his machine. “I may as well have been talking about the study of Kwakiutl Indians, for all my friends knew,” he told an interviewer for the New York Times in 1983. Bob was named a Samuel Willard Bridgham Fellow and earned an M.S. in electrical engineering from Columbia in 1954.



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