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Brain power

Esther Conwell, who once was turned down for an engineering job because of her gender, did research that explained how electrons travel through semiconductors-and helped to trigger the computer revolution. Steven Sasson managed to capture a 0.01 megapixel image on a digital cassette tape with his creation-the first digital camera.

And Marcian "Ted" Hoff Jr. transformed a client’s request for a complex, 10-chip semiconductor system into a simpler, much more powerful idea that reduced an entire computer CPU to a single chip: the microprocessor.

What do these three individuals have in common? One thing, of course, is their inventive spirit. Another is that each was named a recipient last week of one of the nation’s highest honors for scientists and innovators: the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Here’s one more thing they have in common: All three have worked in Rochester or grew up here:

  • Ms. Conwell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester, earned her master’s degree in physics at UR and spent roughly half of her nearly five-decade career as an industrial scientist at Xerox Corp.
  • Now retired, Mr. Sasson was employed from the mid-1970s as an Eastman Kodak Co. researcher.
  • Mr. Hoff, honored for his work with two fellow researchers at Intel Corp., was born here and spent summers during college at General Railway Signal Corp.

While Mr. Hoff spent his entire career elsewhere, the work of all three researchers exemplifies what has been-and remains-a core strength of this community: its skilled, highly educated work force and tradition of innovation. Indeed, when asked in this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll to pick Rochester’s top economic asset, more than 40 percent of respondents cited either "highly educated work force" or "higher education institutions." Not far behind in third place was "knowledge economy sectors" such as health care, biotech, optics/imaging and renewable energy.

Knowledge work is the driving force of Rochester’s economy-old and new. Ms. Conwell, Mr. Sasson and Mr. Hoff are outstanding role models who can inspire the next generation of innovators.

10/22/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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