William L. Everitt: An Optimist’s Journey

William L. Everitt: An Optimist’s Journey


♪ It was quiet at the Pearl
Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii on the morning of
December 7th, 1941. Around the area, the
military was practicing with a new technology – four
mobile radar units. At 7:00 A.M. trainees were
told to shut the units down, but one operator decided to keep
his signal going a bit longer. When he saw a large blur, he
thought it might be a glitch. Since no other units
were operating, no one could confirm
the reading. When he notified headquarters, they also thought
it was a mistake. As the signal disappeared from
his screen, it was too late. [ Bombs dropping ] The United States lost
over 2,000 lives that day. The failure of technology at
Pearl Harbor was a mistake the U.S. vowed to
never make again. The Allies needed scientists and
engineers to assist in winning the war and Bill Everitt
knew how to help. Everitt’s research focused on
electronic signals and his knowledge was vital to improving
American radar technology. He joined the National Defense
Research Committee and worked around the clock alongside
British and American scientists. That’s where Manhattan
Project came out of, all the radio, sonar,
and radar advances came out of this group. By the end of the war,
American radar technology had advanced years
beyond the enemy. Scientists reduced the size of
radar and magnified the signals. The Allies could
see a ship or plane miles before the Japanese
could see them. William Everitt III: He learned
that putting together the greatest minds would create
the greatest advancements. He brought that vision with
him when he became Dean of the Grainger College of Engineering
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Andreas Cangellaris: In that
role, he was the one that brought people like him, who had
served in the war, innovating. Because the war was won not
only through sheer force, but through very creative
advances in technology. ♪ The first young adults in
the age of a push button. Nick Holonyak: He came at a time
when the world had changed from the world
before World War II, to the world that it
became after World War II. Bill Everitt was an
innovator and a visionary and he was the one who
brought other disciplines into engineering and
transformed it. He was always pressing
forward towards a vision that he knew
was there. Andreas Cangellaris: He was
one of the first proponents of allowing students from the
get-go to become involved in what he called the creative
part of engineering. Nick Holonyak: Everitt’s name
is a real sound name for a big step up in the history
of the University of Illinois and in what blossoms. ♪ [ train whistle ] In 1905, William Littell
Everitt was put on a train in Baltimore. The five-year-old was on his way
to live with his aunt and uncle. William Everitt III: You
know, Grandpa was an orphan. And he says, “I don’t
remember my parents. I remember being
put on a train.” His sense of family was
such that as an orphan he wanted to reach out
to people and make sure they were always
feeling loved. A decade later, Bill Everitt
got on another train. (applause) The 18-year-old headed to
the battlefields of Europe. [ gun fire ] -Everitt fought with the Marines
and was one of the lucky ones that made it home. Everitt pursued his dream of
becoming an electrical engineer at Cornell University. There he met a home economics
major, Dorothy Wallace. Linda Valentine: And he must
have known that Dorothy Wallace was a woman of great
energy and talent. He could not have done
what he did without her. Bill and Dorothy
married in 1923. They went to Ohio State
University where he continued his research into electronic
signals and amplification. His work improved
radio transmitters and telephone signals. Nick Holonyak: Bill knew a lot
about the business of how you balance a line, how you made it
equal along the way so that you didn’t go halfway
to Chicago and then bang, it’s dead. You would have a hell of a time
having a nice good signal that was nice and even. Everitt’s expertise in
electronic signals put him at the forefront of the technology
boom that came after the war. Andreas Cangellaris: Everything
that has been happening to technology following
the Second World War, even the use of computers in
every device that we build today had its birth with radar. I think that communication
engineering at the time this is 1940’s, 50’s that was the hot topic. Yes, in little more than a
wink of time television has entered our homes, our
lives, imprinted new silhouettes on our skyline and all this
has been just the beginning. Randall Bryant: It started with
radio and then television, and sort of how do you get
information from one place to another through radio waves and so that was his field. As interest increased in his
research, Everitt translated his knowledge into a
pioneering textbook. Andreas Cangellaris: His book,
“Communications Engineering” was a foundational textbook
in the training of most electronic engineers following
the Second World War. But Everitt wanted to
play an even bigger role in engineering education. He got that chance at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. William Everitt III: When
Illinois came knocking at the door, I think he saw the biggest
opportunity to take and mold. Because before this was
an agriculture school. Engineering was a supplemental
to any agriculture advancements that they might have had like
whether a plow or whatever. The engineer was a fabricator. Randal Bryant: I think that at
the time engineering was almost a trade, that you’d learn the
very specific rules of how do you design or build an engine or
put lighting on the streets, and it was all based on formulas
and sort of all codified the way a tradesman
would do. A lot of what he did was to
bring a more mathematical perspective in, sometimes
referred to as engineering science, so that you learned the
mathematics and the science and the principles behind it,
and then off in your career you’d learn to apply those
ideas to specific problems. The EE Department old
professors were out of it. They knew about motors and stuff
like that, and transformers. They knew very little
about electronics. It was those young fellows that
had been on sophisticated ships, around radar, they were the ones
that had a lot more energy, a lot more exposure
to modern stuff. And take Engineering electrical, mechanical,
most any kind Think of what still can be
done in the field of research. Mr. Adams, some of those large
generators I’ve seen have the rhythm of music. When Everitt started at
Illinois in 1945, enrollment swelled
thanks to the GI Bill. Along with the veterans who
enrolled in engineering was 20-year-old,
Nick Holonyak. Nick Holonyak: Our
class was very big, and everything was
crowded on the campus. I hid behind a lot of the GIs
when they were taking picturesout in front because
I had blue jeans on. And people didn’t wear blue
jeans as fashionable clothes at that time. Some of those people would
consider me sort of a juvenile because I was so much younger. I was just at the edge
of being a draftee. Holonyak first met Dean Everitt
when he welcomed his class to the Grainger College
of Engineering. He was telling us what it was
to be electrical engineers. Andreas Cangellaris: He felt
that since engineers are in the middle of coming up with new
technologies and innovations it would have been very
important for them to approach that with a very good sense
of how their innovations, how the ideas they had
would impact the world. Dan Everitt: He always
encouraged and wrote about the importance of humanities and
social sciences, you know, integrated with engineering. And he never wanted to see
engineers and their training be strictly science. Randal Bryant: He believed
strongly that engineers should be front and center in
a lot of policy issues and believed very much this
sort of engineering techniques and philosophies could
address many of the problems of the world today. And that you needed
engineering to do all these things because engineering
was taking the resources you have – economically, people,
minerals, etc. and so forth and putting together,
as he called it, as a useful purpose for man. Nick Holonyak: A lot of things
that the Academy of Science talked about as science like the
business of going to the moon, were all the product of science. No, they weren’t! A lot of them were the products
of electrical engineering, the kind of things that were
being taught in electrical engineering departments. You’re working for the world; you’re not working
for just yourself. And Bill Everitt always felt
that we had to be the best. Everitt knew that in
order to be the best, you had to hire the best. Because once you have
the best people around, you can rest assured that
great things will happen as long as you stay
out of the way. My dad was never afraid to be
around intelligent people. And he said I hired
people smarter than I was in every field. One of those people
was John Bardeen. Bardeen was the first person to
win two Nobel Prizes in physics. One was for his invention of
the revolutionary transistor. Before the transistor,
electronic devices were powered by bulky vacuum tubes. They produced heat and
burned out like lightbulbs. The transistor’s small size and
amplification ability allowed electronics to be
smaller and portable. Holonyak first saw a transistor
when Bardeen demonstrated one in class, using a
small plastic box. Unlike tube-powered devices,
it turned on instantly. Andreas Cangellaris: And
he was mesmerized by it. I believe, thinking of the
career that Nick Holonyak had, that single event where you have
a switch that is being used to turn things on and off
demonstrated to you, it was the transformational
experience for his life. That changed my life and a
whole bunch of people’s lives around here, and the world, because a school of continued
work in that field continued and continued and continued. Bardeen’s work inspired Nick
Holonyak’s life-long research into lasers and his invention of
he first visible light emitting diode or LED. Today billions of LED
bulbs light up the world. Andreas Cangellaris: John
Bardeen in many regards was a very strong believer in the
vision that Bill Everitt had that research by
itself is not enough. Education of the workforce that
will take that research and turn it into successes
is what matters as well. Everitt’s leadership and the
research of Bardeen and Holonyak made Illinois one of the
top engineering schools in the country. Nick: I think that if you
got a good group of people, if their thoughts lead them
to ways of solving problems, it’s inevitable, it’s
going to happen. But is it going to
happen here or where? Everitt’s mark is on that. Here is China, cradle
of civilization in Asia. China once seemed almost
as remote as the moon to us here in America, but the airplane has brought
it within 50 flying hours of our coasts. As Dean of the Grainger College
of Engineering at Illinois, Bill Everitt made
several trips to China. He became a close friend of
renowned Chinese Physicist, Adam Pen-Tung Sah. He feared for his friend as the
country’s civil war escalated between the Nationalists
and the Communists. In 1949, the Communists took
control of China and Adam Sah narrowly escaped to Hong
Kong with his family. He made a desperate phone call
to his friend Bill Everitt. Pam Everitt: Problem was at
that time the Communists were kidnapping people off the
streets of Hong Kong. Here’s this very extremely
intelligent engineer, two sons who were brilliant and they were afraid that
the boys would be stolen off the streets
of Hong Kong. Bill and Dorothy Everitt
immediately tried to help the family. They called every government and
military connection they had in order to get them relocated
to the United States. They succeeded in bringing
the boys, Han and Tang Sah to their home in Urbana. Pam: So Han and Tang
were my brothers. Han is the one that
mushed up my ice-cream and taught me how
to play football. People thought I was
weird because I said I had Chinese brothers. But I never thought
it was weird. To me it was natural to
bring people into your home and make them part
of your home. The brothers were inspired
by their father and their foster father,
Bill Everitt. Han became a pioneering
mathematician and a professor at Stony Brook University
in New York. Tang studied engineering
and developed a technology called CMOS, It is still the standard in
building almost all integrated circuits. He was a professor of
engineering at Illinois for over 26 years. The Sah brothers were not
the only students taken in by Bill and Dorothy Everitt. I believe by the time my
grandmother died they had had over 50 international students
living in their house with them. I think it gave my father and
all of us, you know, a real sensitivity to people living in
other societies, other cultures. I think they really took that on as one of their roles here at the
University was to welcome all these people from
around the world. Dan: They would
live in the house. They’d be just
part of the family. Their payment was taking out the
garbage and mowing the lawn. They pitched in and helped out. Randal: My grandmother and
grandfather were this amazing joined at a hip but as
opposite as could be people. She learned how to cook meals
that could be just the same for five people or for 100 people. You just scaled it. Remember this is a hurry up
picture of just one meal out of more than a thousand. Linda: She could barely
cook for a family of four, but give her 50 and
she was the best! Randal: As a result, a lot
of social activities revolved around the
Everitts here in Urbana. He was a really gifted designer,
builder and craftsman. He built their own TV antennae
that was customized for the particular locations
of television stations relative to their house. Dean Everitt also encouraged
Illinois engineers to create