Gerald P. Dinneen
Mathematician Without Boundaries
Gerald P. Dinneen was born in New York City and received his early education there. Two years into his study of mathematics at Queens College, Dr. Dinneen’s formal education was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and studied weather at New York University as part of his military training. Sent overseas in 1944, Dr. Dinneen worked as an air transport officer, and he remained in Japan for 10 months after the end of the war. These experiences prefigured his later involvement in applied mathematics, engineering, and management. Following his return to civilian life, he completed his undergraduate studies, and received a B.S. in mathematics from Queens College. He then studied at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in mathematics.
Dr. Dinneen began his professional career at Goodyear Aircraft, where he worked as a senior development engineer. In his work on analog computers, he used his mathematical training in the development of systems such as autopilots for helicopters. This was the first in a series of positions in which he combined pure mathematics with an interest in communications, computers, and control. He moved next to Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During World War II, MIT had been the site of the Radiation Laboratory and after the war, MIT established Lincoln Laboratory for the U.S. Air Force. The lab led the design and development efforts for a new air defense system, which combined the emerging digital computer, data communications, and radar technologies. Working on one of the very few digital computers operating worldwide, a vacuum tube machine called Whirlwind, Dr. Dinneen applied Boolean algebra to the task of programming the computer to carry out
tasks related to air defense systems. He also became involved in the humanlike behavior of machines, a field now known as artificial intelligence. Early in the 1950s, transistors were becoming available to replace vacuum tubes, thereby enabling smaller computers. Dr. Dinneen was one of the designers of a new general purpose computer that permitted the real-time control of an advanced radar—a novel concept at the time.
After 5 years of research, Dr. Dinneen assumed a more managerial role in the laboratory, functioning as a technical leader. During this period of time, recognizing that improved communication could significantly enhance the nation’s defense capacity, he was extensively involved in the development and deployment of communication satellites. He and his colleagues at the laboratory began to study the idea of using satellites to communicate with aircraft and vehicles. During a 10-year period, they built and launched eight communication satellites that ranged in size from 40 to 2,000 pounds. This process involved not only building a reliable electronics facility for making circuits and testing them for durability under extreme conditions, but also working with launch personnel at the Kennedy Space Center to coordinate the launches. In 1970, he was named director of Lincoln Laboratory, a post he held until 1977.
In 1977, shortly after the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Dinneen was nominated assistant secretary of defense. In this capacity, he was responsible for communications, command and control, and intelligence. During his 4 years at the Department of Defense, he maintained a strong involvement with communication satellites and held primary responsibility for them within the department. He also had oversight responsibility for the Global Positioning System, a navigation system that was designed for both aircraft and ground vehicles and was subsequently advanced to the point where it can be used by individual soldiers on the ground. Dr. Dinneen also was responsible for programs in digital communication that allowed data to be communicated to pilots. This shift initially encountered some resistance from pilots, who were more at ease with the familiar voice communication system; the communication of data, however, reduced the possibilities for pilot error and was more secure and reliable. He initiated a number of international programs and, in extensive negotiations, including two official visits to China, helped set policies for technology transfer to the People’s Republic of China.
In 1981, Dr. Dinneen left the government to join the Honeywell Corporation in Minneapolis. As chief technical officer for the corporation, he worked almost exclusively with civilian products for the first time in his professional life. He was particularly involved with semiconductor operations, including projects to improve control and security systems for homes and buildings. During his tenure at Honeywell, he also sought to link the research laboratories more closely to the business goals and objectives of the company, and established programs to encourage scientists and engineers to excel in applied research, including programs through which scientists and engineers could advance without becoming manag-
ers. As Senior Vice President for Science and Technology, he was also extensively involved with the corporation’s international research and development programs, forming joint teams and encouraging the mobility of engineers. Dr. Dinneen retired from Honeywell in 1988.
Dr. Dinneen was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975. He was a member of the Academy’s governing Council from 1984 through mid-1995 and held the office of Foreign Secretary from 1988 to 1995. During this time, he set policies and goals for the Academy ’s Foreign Associates and contributed to the growth and development of the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences. He has been an active participant and leader of the National Research Council’s international programs.
Dr. Dinneen is currently a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota ’s Institute of Technology and an adjunct associate at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, also at the University of Minnesota. In the latter position, he is advising on the creation of a science and technology policy program. He has been a member of many advisory boards and panels, including serving for an extended period on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. He continues to serve as an honorary trustee of the Science Museum of Minnesota, where he was instrumental in developing a technology facility and exhibit. He has been a member of the board of directors of VOTAN, the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, the Honeywell Foundation, the Corporation for Open Systems, and Honeywell-NEC Supercomputers.
Dr. Dinneen is a recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award and has twice been awarded the Exceptional Civilian Service Award from the U.S. Air Force. He has also received the Distinguished Service Medal from the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association, the Navy Certificate of Commendation for service on the Committee on Undersea Warfare of the National Research Council, the Army Certificate of Achievement for Service on the Army Material Acquisition Review Committee, and was named man of the year by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
Dr. Dinneen and the former Mary Purington were married 48 years ago. They have three children and five grandchildren.
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