Trans engineer democratizes chip design

Lynn Conway holding a copy of her VLSI publication.

Fired from IBM after disclosing her gender transition, Lynn Conway went on to help democratize chip design at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the “VLSI revolution.” The Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) enabled the creation of smaller, more powerful, and energy-efficient chips. These chips helped create our modern phones and gadgets because they made electronic parts smaller.

Conway made the process of designing chip layout easier to understand, even for beginners. She used ratios instead of exact dimensions in her rules, and her rules have remained relevant over the decades as chips have shrunk. She published these principles in the Introduction to VLSI Systems in 1978 and taught a course at MIT the same year.

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