The debt we owe to Hans Camenzind (1934-2012) -

The debt we owe to Hans Camenzind (1934-2012)


The inventor of the now ubiquitous 555 timer circuit – Hans Camenzind – died this month after a life that was creative to the end. Soft-spoken but definite – and well-reasoned – in his opinions (such as who the real inventor of the IC was ), he was always generous with his time in explaining the intricacies of circuit design to a young technology journalist who was eager to learn.

He seemed to me to be the sort of person who had figured out that the best way to a fulfilled life was to find an interest that was intellectually absorbing and do it well. In that goal he was successful. By 2006, he had designed over 140 standard and custom ICs.

In addition to creating the 555 timer, he designed the first integrated class D amplifie r, introduced the phase-locked loop concept to ICs, and invented the semicustom IC. He was granted about 20 U.S. patents for his circuit design innovations and was generous in teaching what he knew to others either as a lecturer or as an author. His most recent book in 2007 (“Much ado about almost nothing”) provides his perspective on the electronics industry as he lived it. But most useful to me were his textbooks on circuit design, one of which (“Designing Analog Circuits“) I refer to regularly not just for its technical insights but for lessons on how to write about technical subjects clearly.

Some of the design articles published on well illustrate the pivotal role the 555 timer continues to play in advanced designs, including:
Doing hardware counter/timer design using high school science
Save power and real estate with a programmable reset controller
How to get the most out of a single timer on an MCU

In addition, here are my Editor’s Top Picks of 555 timer tips and tricks articles:

Reliable 555 timer doesn’t falsely trigger
555 timer eliminates LED driver need for MPU control
555 timer drives multiple LEDs from one NiMH cell
Analog switch converts 555 timer into a PWM
Use a 555 timer as a switch-mode power supply
555 makes handy voltage-to-time converter

To get a sense of the man, read and listen to the Semiconductor Museum three part oral historyas well as hear and see him in Part 1 and Part 2 in a YouTube video series on the design of the 555. There is also a YouTube video channel he created where he talks about some of the engineers he admired. To understand why an estimated 1 billion 555 timer circuits are still built every year, check out some of the many videos of 555 DIY projects published on line.

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