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Alumni & Friends

Commendation for Chip Creator


Photo of President Barack Obama applauding Stanley Mazor. Photo Courtesy of Stanley Mazor.President Barack Obama said, "I feel really smart just standing up here with [Stanley Mazor
and his colleagues]." — Photo courtesy of Stanley Mazor

Stanley Mazor (attended '60–'65) arrived at SF State with blueprints for a one-man, motorcycle-engine powered helicopter, but he put the project aside when he laid his eyes on an IBM 1620, SF State's only computer at the time.

"It was like being bit by a bug," Mazor recalls nearly 50 years later. "I got really, really, really into computers."

Soon he was not only tutoring others to write code, he was toting a sleeping bag so he could spend all night experimenting with the computer's capabilities, however limited they now seem.

Some of his creations -- like a tic-tac-toe game -- were done in secret. Administrators took a dim view of using scientific instruments for such frivolity. But there was nothing trifling about Mazor's new passion. Between exploring the IBM's powers and assisting Professor Ned Chapin on an artificial intelligence project, Mazor was amassing an expertise in software and hardware at SF State that would quickly make a mark on history.

His pinnacle accomplishment came in 1971, when he and two other Intel engineers unveiled the world's first microprocessor, the Intel 4004. The single programmable chip had as much computing power as the first electronic computer, which filled a room. Mazor shared the patent on the new invention and wrote its software.

The inventors' triumph was lost at first. Few could fathom a widespread use for so much electronic brainpower. Today, virtually anything with a battery or a cord has a microprocessor as its nerve center. Over the years, the trio has received a stream of awards for their leap forward, including the Kyoto Prize, Japan's version of the Nobel Prize, and membership in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In November 2010, they received their latest accolade, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, bestowed by President Obama at a White House ceremony.

"It was marvelous. And of course, you'd rather do it now than after you're dead," Mazor jokes, though as much as he enjoyed the occasion, he's never lingered on the past. Even in retirement, he's busy engulfed in projects. He's written several books, including one on playing the stock market and another on architecture, based on personal experiences.

After falling in love with French chateaus, he designed his own, a 9,000 square-foot mansion in Oregon built out of polystyrene blocks reinforced with concrete. More recently, he's been consumed with writing plays. He's already penned one, and is planning his next -- "In the Chips," a play about a Silicon Valley semiconductor company, which may turn out to be nearly as difficult as anything he did actually working at a Silicon Valley company.

"A play is so hard to write," he says.


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