Lynn Conway’s revolutionary work on silicon chip design triggered a flurry of university research and high-tech startups in the 80s and 90s. She is a named inventor on five U.S. patents.
Lynn Conway has always been fascinated by astronomy and excelled in math and science as a boy growing up in New York. She began seeing physicians who were pioneers in gender transition while attending M.I.T. When Conway’s first gender transition was unsuccessful, she took a break from her studies and eventually earned her B.S. and M.S.E.E. degrees from Columbia University.
After graduation, she was recruited by I.B.M. and selected to work on the design for an advanced supercomputer. Conway contributed substantially to this project and invented multiple-issue out-of-order dynamic instruction scheduling. This supercomputer was the first to have a superscalar design, essential for creating modern, high-performance microprocessors.
Despite her contribution, I.B.M. fired her in 1968 after she decided to transition (I.B.M. later publicly apologized). Conway adopted a new name and identity and rebuilt her career as a contract programmer for Computer Applications, Inc., Memorex, and XEROX PARC. At XEROX PARC, she created multi-project wafers that combine several different circuit designs onto one chip. She also invented dimensionless, scalable design rules that further improved microchip design and created the internet-based infrastructure for rapid prototyping.
This invention led to the Mead-Conway VLSI chip design revolution in very large-scale integrated (VLSI) microchip design. Coincidentally, as co-author of the seminal textbook, Introduction to VLSI Systems, an international revolution spread rapidly through the research universities and computing industries during the 1980s leading to changes in computer science, electrical engineering education, and the electronic design automation industry. Changing the infrastructure for chip design and production led to a rush of impactful high-tech startups in the 80s and 90s.
As interest in her work grew, Conway came out publicly in 2000 as a trans woman and has worked to protect and expand transgender rights by aiding other transitioning transgender women. She has strongly advocated for employment protection and equal opportunity for transgender individuals in the tech industry and successfully lobbied the board of directs for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for transgender inclusion in their code of ethics. She also maintains a website with medical resources and advice for transitioning trans women.
Lynn Conway has received recognition and awards from the following organizations, which include, but are not limited to the following:
- The Secretary of Defense
- National Academy of Engineering
- The Franklin Institute
- Society of Women Engineers
- National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals
- Time Magazine
- The International Court System and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- National Center for Women in Technology
Lynn Conway’s bravery and commitment to diversity, excellence, and community inspire scientists and citizens, and we gratefully recognize her contributions during Pride Month.
Author: Katherine Chen
US 5046022, Conway, Lynn; Richard Volz & Michael Walker, “Teleautonomous System and Method Employing Time/Position Synchrony/Desynchrony,” issued September 3, 1991.
US 5444476, Conway, Lynn, “System and Method for Teleinteraction,” issued August 22, 1995
US 5652849, Conway, Lynn & Charles Cohen, “Apparatus and Method for Remote Control Using a Visual Information Stream,” issued July 20, 1997
US 5719622, Conway, Lynn, “Visual Control Selection of Remote Mechanisms,” issued February 17, 1998
US 5745782, Conway, Lynn, “Method and System for Organizing and Presenting Audio/Visual Information,” issued April 28, 1998