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Volume 2, Issue 4
May/June 2002



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In This Issue
Marrying Microsystems and Nanoscience

Let There Be (Sun)Light

If You Can See This, You're Too Close

A BiD for Better Design

Berkeley Engineering History: The Release of SPICE

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Lab Notes, Research from the College of Engineering


Berkeley Engineering: Changing Our World

1972: The release of SPICE, still the industry standard tool for integrated circuit design
by David Pescovitz

Donald O. Pederson, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. (Click for larger image.)
Peg Skorpinski photo

In circuit design technology, there is only one noun that has become a verb by its very ubiquity. Developed under the leadership of Berkeley professor Donald O. Pederson with a "cast of thousands," the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) tool or one of its myriad derivatives has been wielded in the design of nearly every single integrated circuit developed in the last 25 years. "Let's SPICE this circuit and see if it works," engineers say.

In the mid-1960s, UC Berkeley was (and still is) a hotbed for the then nascent field of integrated circuit design and software simulation programs to help invent and test the new circuits. In the fall of 1969, professor Ron Rohrer returned from a leave at Fairchild and taught a circuit design and analysis course. The course project was to develop the components of a comprehensive and optimal circuit simulator. At the end of the class, Rohrer told his students their grades were dependent on how much their programs impressed Pederson, a pioneer in transistor research and the person most responsible for establishing the first integrated circuit facility at Berkeley in 1960 — the first at any university. Pederson's gold star went to a program called Computer Analysis of Nonlinear Circuits, Excluding Radiation (CANCER). At the time, circuit simulation programs were usually funded by government and were required to include a feature to test a circuit's radiation resistance.

"The name CANCER was a brash statement that this program never would simulate radiation and was not funded by the defense industry," Laurence Nagel, one of the key CANCER developers. "It was developed at Berkeley in the sixties, remember!"

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With Rohrer's departure from Berkeley, Nagel became one of Pederson's star graduate students. Pederson's goal for Nagel and others: develop CANCER into a truly public-domain, general-purpose circuit simulator. But not without a name change: the word cancer had obvious negative connotations. After the birth of the newly-named SPICE and the more-advanced SPICE 2, Nagel left Berkeley for AT&T Bell Laboratories where he led similar circuit simulation research.

Copies of SPICE proliferated throughout the industry and feedback, complaints, and kudos flowed back to Berkeley. Nagel's former roommate, Ellis Cohen, immersed himself in bettering SPICE 2 in collaboration with many others, including College of Engineering Dean A. Richard Newton, who Pederson had recruited from the University of Melbourne. Eventually, SPICE 2 was unleashed into the public domain, transforming the world of Electronic Design Automation and birthing a cottage industry.

More than a dozen companies have formed around the SPICE seed to sell support and enhancements while tens of thousands of circuit designers use the software on a daily basis. But at the core of every version and upgrade, Don Perderson and his students' basic architecture and innovative computer code still screams Berkeley Engineering.



The SPICE home page

Presentation of the Phil Kaufman Award to Donald O. Pederson by A. Richard Newton

The Life of SPICE by Laurence W. Nagel

Article: "Admirers Endow Professorship Honoring SPICE Creator Pederson"


Lab Notes is published online by the Public Affairs Office of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. The Lab Notes mission is to illuminate groundbreaking research underway today at the College of Engineering that will dramatically change our lives tomorrow.

Editor, Director of Public Affairs: Teresa Moore
Writer, Researcher: David Pescovitz
Designer: Robyn Altman

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© 2002 UC Regents. Updated 5/1/02.