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44th Design Automation Conference, June 4-8, 2007
January 12, 2007

A friend's passing

by Gabe Moretti

The members of the DAC Executive Committee both present and past are mourning  the passing of Richard Newton.  In these times, many of us reflect on the theological and mystical reasons for what seems such an injustice. 

Why a good person, one that has contributed so much to our industry, his community, and the world must be gone so young?  There is no answer, and at the same time, there are many answers.  But our sadness is not tempered with logic, the void created is not filled with a certain answer.  Richard chose not to be just an academic, he chose to be a teacher and a mentor to many of those who have ascended to positions of leadership in both the semiconductor and the EDA industry.

But his creative spirit did not just stop there.  He cared for the EDA industry, a sector that is indispensable to semiconductor progress.  Richard saw in the Design Automation Conference a tool to foster EDA's technological growth and a forum to showcase its achievements.  He worked hard and well to improve the technical program and to increase the overall quality of the conference.  And he was always ready to advise without directing: a true leader.  Ellen Sentovich, Past Chair of DAC and a former student of Richard Newton’s expressed the sentiments of the Executive Committee of DAC by saying:  “We are deeply saddened by the news of Richard Newton’s passing.  He has always been a giant in EDA, including a large role in DAC –– serving as chair in 1991, delivering a keynote in 1995, and giving many technical and visionary talks over the years.  He lit up a room when he entered it, and was always full of energy and ideas.  He had a keen interest in education and research and their applications in improving our world.  This is a great loss for the EDA community and well beyond, to all whose lives were touched by his work.”

Alfred E. Dunlop, President of the IEEE Council for Electronic Design Automation (CEDA) added: “Richard Newton was a great thought leader who drove the development of the technology that has become the foundation of the EDA and electronics industries.  He had the innate ability to identify trends and rally people around them.  He was a visionary who saw what technology was needed to create today’s complex chips and made sure this technology was developed.  Perhaps his greatest skill –– and one that will be his most enduring legacy –– was his ability to evaluate people’s strengths and capabilities and put them together with the technology that has driven many EDA activities.”

Although DAC and EDA will miss Richard, his legacy will live on as those associated with DAC continue to follow his example of inspired and intelligent volunteerism to improve DAC for years to come.


We all feel the great loss of Richard Newton as a friend, researcher, educator, entrepreneur, and visionary on the role that technology can play in everyone's lives. Many of us remember the first time we met Richard. For me it was when I was a graduate student and summer intern at Digital Equipment Corporation. Richard was visiting at that time in his role of developing the industrial affiliates program for Berkeley. As busy as he was, he made a point of taking me aside and telling me: "Steve, at the university you can get copies of all this great software for free! Do it quickly, in a little while it's going to be expensive."
The Design Automation Executive Committee is grateful to be able share with the community these memorial remarks by his friend, Aart de Geus.

Steven P. Levitan
General Chair, 44th Design Automation Conference
University of Pittsburgh



   “We really are a global community; not just businesses, not just technology; we are one family.  If you believe that people are a net positive, and I do, then technology can and must be used in the interest of society.”

A. Richard Newton

A. Richard Newton – Technologist with a Mission

by Aart de Geus, Chairman of the EDA Consortium and Chairman and CEO of Synopsys, Inc.

With Richard Newton’s abrupt passing (1951-2007) from pancreatic cancer, we lost a dear friend and a beacon of optimism.  He was a dear friend to the EDA field that he propelled forward, a dear friend to society for harnessing technology to improve it, a dear friend to the students and colleagues that he inspired and motivated, and a dear friend to me.

Reading his many touching obituaries, one cannot help being moved by the depth of his impact, the breadth of his reach, and the personal strength of his influence.  The comprehensive biography found at gives a good overview of Richard’s accomplishments, so let me rather comment about the man and his legacy.

An imposing figure at somewhere over six feet, Rich was literally “larger than life,” while his physical stature was still dwarfed by the height of his passion.   Rich did not wrestle with ideas; he conquered them.  He entered any room, any conversation, or any brainstorm session with full enthusiasm and a wonderful sparkle of irreverence.  Be it a new EDA algorithm, a communication system for rural India, a book on innovation, or a promising bottle of red wine, all got the full assault of his “joie de vivre.”

As I look back on the 25 years plus that I knew him closely, I now see that Rich matured from having a focus on technology for technology’s sake to something much greater—a love of technology for its potential positive impact on people’s lives.  Although best known for his contributions to EDA, Rich left us this greater mantle as our inheritance—to pick up and move it forward with the full impact that he imagined. 

Let me attempt to describe his legacy through three overlapping phases:  educational motivator, entrepreneurial catalyst, and visionary dean.

Technology and Education

Although Richard’s fascination with technology goes all the way back to his youth (the tales about electrical projects involving every corner and rooftop of his parental home grow taller every time his brother tells them), let me pick up his trail when he arrived at UC Berkeley as a PhD student in 1975. 

Having worked on circuit simulation at the University of Melbourne, he immediately found an intellectual home at UC Berkeley with Don Pederson, under whom he graduated in 1978 with a thesis on mixed-mode simulation.  Don was a strong influence and became Rich’s life-long mentor and friend. 

The timing was particularly fortunate.  The circuit simulator SPICE, conceived in the early seventies by Ron Rohrer and further developed by Don and his students, was rapidly spreading to industry beyond all expectations.  Managing this growth was an opportunity just waiting for an organizer like Rich!  He rapidly put in place a professional maintenance and release process, made sure that industry input was duly taken into account, and rolled release after release off the Berkeley presses like clockwork. Today, Spice (and its industrial derivatives) is still a cornerstone of modern circuit design. 

Rich’s energy and skill did not go unnoticed and, despite university policy, he was hired onto the faculty immediately after graduation.  In my view, this event marked the beginning of the “Classical Age of EDA.”  While other universities had great programs, UC Berkeley clearly emerged as the center of gravity for EDA.  Guided by Don,  Rich built a superbly managed industrial liaison program that rotated industrial visitors, took input (and copious funding!) from corporate sponsors, and in return, delivered an increasingly broad set of “industrial-strength” EDA software suited for real chip design. 

This collaborative approach would remain a hallmark of Rich’s style for the rest of his life.  Over and over, he managed to be the catalyst in bringing together the right ideas at the right time, proposing a bold plan, aligning funding, and motivating outstanding people to try—and succeed at—the impossible.  The open EDIF interchange format that he personally pioneered is just one example of his talents in forming a broad coalition to solve an industry-wide problem. 

Most notable during this phase was Rich’s intense collaboration with Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, later joined by Bob Brayton.  Critical mass was achieved, and the “Berkeley Machine” -- sometimes enviously characterized as the “Berkeley Mafia” -- roared into action.  Whereas Alberto and Bob brought analytical sophistication and rigor to the mix, Rich provided vision, motivation, and organizational energy.

In all these endeavors, Rich was fiercely competitive, but never without a twinkle in his eye.  It was hilarious, just a few months ago, to hear him ask innocently how I would rank engineering departments throughout the country.  Then, with a broad grin on his radiant face, he opened a magazine that had just ranked UC Berkeley number one!

A stellar teacher and magnetic speaker, his students invariably remember Rich as the person who forever changed their lives.  He catalyzed them to “go for it” and set their talents free.  Indeed, many of them went on to make major contributions to industry.  Asked two decades later what he was most proud of, Rich would invariably answer, “my students.”  It is no surprise that in 1987 he was the national recipient of the C. Holmes McDonald Outstanding Young Professor Award.

Entrepreneurial Catalyst

It is precisely through his students that the second phase of Rich’s professional life, the entrepreneurial enabler, took form.  At one point, Jim Solomon, then a design manager at National Semiconductor, voiced a reluctance to continue using university software.  Jim worried that a university would always give preferential treatment to exciting new algorithms over solid industry support. 

But Rich had a solution.  He talked Jim into forming a commercial company with some of Rich’s top students to bring “industrial strength” to leading-edge software.  The concept centered around a uniform data representation with a set of well-controlled access routines implemented on non-proprietary workstations that were running the emerging (Berkeley) UNIX operating system.  The collaboration led to the formation of SDA (Solomon Design Automation), which, through the merger with ECAD in 1987, ultimately became Cadence.

From the start, three phrases characterized Rich’s approach to every problem:  “There’s got to be a better way” was always followed by intense brainstorming.  His fearless “We can do that!” would signal that some bold idea had begun to emerge.  Once a solution was in sight, it was “Full steam ahead!” with a conviction and energy that was both inescapable and powerfully contagious.  

This approach is what he unleashed on commercial EDA.  After the promising beginnings of SDA, Rich kept looking for “the next big thing.” He found it in logic synthesis. 

In 1983, Rich and Don visited General Electric to review its EDA program.  I was managing the advanced research group at the time.  Already well known as EDA leaders, they were impressive consultants, especially because they just happened to have brilliant answers to all their own questions! 

It was during this visit that Rich became intrigued by our work in synthesis.  Further encouraged by outstanding research in places such as IBM and AT&T, Rich grew into an active missionary for synthesis, culminating in a speech at the 1985 SASIMI conference in Japan.  (Incidentally, this conference is also where Rich met his future wife, Petra, thus adding a whole new personal dimension to the term “synthesis.”)

In late 1986, when Synopsys was formed, Rich and Alberto were staunch advocates and supporters.  It is only many years later that I fully started to appreciate how catalytic Rich was in that fragile formation stage.   He was not only instrumental in orchestrating funding, but he also helped bring into the company some of the strongest contributors in the history of EDA.

As a board member, all the way through the final meeting he attended last year, Rich added a unique spark.   He incessantly searched for the bigger picture in every issue, at the same time providing loyal support whenever I struggled with the more mundane challenges of running a business.  Rich would move with great enthusiasm from one idea to the next with alarming speed, while the rest of us were just catching up on his last idea, toiling away in tedious implementation. Today his fingerprints remain visible all over Synopsys’ DNA.

Although SDA (Cadence) and Synopsys are the most visible today, they were not the only companies that Rich influenced in a fundamental way.  He was a key driver behind Viewlogic, Pie, Redwood, and Simplex in EDA; and an active participant in Tensilica, Windriver, Sonics, Lightspeed, and many others. For a brief period, Rich even held the President and CEO position of Silicon Light Machines, which was later sold to Cypress Semiconductor.  For his tremendous influence and impact, Rich was recognized with the 2003 Kaufman Award, the “Nobel Prize of EDA.”

All through the nineties, Rich was an active participant in the venture capital world; most notably, the Mayfield Venture Fund.  Venture capital was an ideal environment for him, as he loved the challenge and excitement of constantly exploring new entrepreneurial ideas. 

By the end of the nineties, though, Rich had become intellectually restless.  EDA had matured into a major industry; and although he still loved to teach and speak, his experience as a CEO had enriched, but not satisfied, him.  It just didn’t provide an adequate platform for his never-ending search for “the next big thing.”  After a transition period as Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, in 2000 he became Dean of Engineering.  This was the platform that Rich had been seeking, and he began one of the most fruitful phases of his life.

Technology with a Mission

Just as he had learned in industry, his vision needed a mission statement. Through many discussions, I saw Rich struggle to formulate a center of gravity for his direction.  And then one day, he called, all excited: “What do you think, Aart?  ‘Technology for the Betterment of Society.’  We can do it!  This is what universities should stand for; this is what UC Berkeley is all about!”

Almost overnight, everything in his life came together. His love for education and technology, his entrepreneurial skills and experience, his talent for management, his deeply held belief in the power of diversity, his irresistible fundraising pitches for big ideas to serve even bigger ideals, and his spiritual desire to align technology with a deeper purpose—all of these formed the “platform” from which Rich took off.  

That day Rich became a “man with a mission.”  He had finally found his stage.  All his energy went into creating a bold plan, raising funds from the Governor and affluent alumni, and convincing friends and colleagues to move forward with him at breakneck speed. 

The results have been inspiring.  Today, on the UC Berkeley campus, you can see the building rising from the ground that will host CITRIS, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.  Researchers on four UC campuses, along with industry partners, are developing information technology solutions to large-scale problems that our society faces.  These problems include the environment, services to the third world, health care, emergency preparedness, and education, just to name a few. 

In Rich’s own words: “We really are a global community; not just businesses, not just technology; we are one family.  If you believe that people are a net positive, and I do, then technology can and must be used in the interest of society.”

Rich’s most recent activities centered on the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology.  Synthetic biology is a new discipline in which genes, proteins, and cells are snapped together like Tinkertoys to build living systems.  The same Rich Newton who advocated the move to electronic synthesis in 1985 began enabling the synthesis of new drugs, all stemming from the same belief: “There’s got to be a better way.”  And there is!  Already, synthetic biology projects are underway at the Berkeley Center to convert bacteria into chemical factories that produce anti-malaria treatments for pennies, instead of dollars. 

His passion for this Center was so great that, in the last days of his life, he requested that others support this work in lieu of flowers to his family. These gifts will go towards an endowed fund to be named for Richard.  []

In many ways, the arc of Richard’s life brought him exactly where he needed to be, as everything he had worked on and believed in came together.  In these last years, I saw him happier and more confident than ever before, as the focus on people became central to his mission.

Kurt Keutzer of UC Berkeley summarized Rich’s character with great skill:  “Richard's talent for innovative thinking is only overshadowed by his industry vision. His industry vision is only overshadowed by his societal concern. His societal concern is only overshadowed by his concern for his friends and family. What an extraordinary fellow!”

If there is one area that is most difficult to write about, it is the personal one.  Notwithstanding Rich’s enormous accomplishments, what I miss most are his character and personality.  His compassion, loyalty, sense of fairness, and enthusiasm, all shot through with a streak of mischief, made him someone you wanted to be with.  It is not surprising how many people considered him a close friend, or how many of us wished we were more like him! 

To me, Rich’s greatest strength was his relentless optimism.  Even when sharing with me some of his own toughest personal moments, I was amazed by how he always managed to actively seek and drive towards the positive in every situation. 

As an adoring father to his two daughters, Rich taught them to see the bigger picture as well, and he prepared them to follow in his footsteps to achieve their own dreams. 

In putting together my remarks to present Richard with the Kaufman Award in 2003, I asked his wife, Petra, to characterize his essence for me.  She simply stated: “Rich has a big heart.”   I can add nothing more to that.