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In memoriam: James L. Fergason

Dr. James L. Fergason, one of the "leading independent inventors of the past 50 years," died on Tuesday, December 9th.

An SPIE member, Fergason will be remembered for the discovery of the twisted nematic field effect of liquid crystals - the key discovery that led to the creation of today's liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1998, Fergason holds over 100 U.S. patents, including Display Devices Utilizing Liquid Crystal Light Modulation Liquid Crystal Display. He was also the recipient of the 2006 Lemelson-MIT Prize for encouraging young people to engage in invention and to pursue sustainable new solutions to real world problems.

"Though most inventions turn out to be the result of many often unrecognized contributors, in this case discoveries that can be traced to an Austrian botanist in 1888 and a transnational quest with contributions from different disciplines, Jim Fergason's work was a major advance towards practical LCDs," says SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "These are now ubiquitous of course and besides the high quality images that they bring to many homes and personal devices, these displays constitute a roughly $100 billion market. Jim always regretted the lack of vision of the US corporate world. Failure to invest in this promising technology in a meaningful and sustained manner, perhaps with an eye to defending CRT technology, left the commercial success to others."

Fergason was born in Wakenda, Missouri and attended the University of Missouri. He is survived by his wife Dora and their four children, Teresa, Jeffrey, John and Susan, his 10 grandchildren and his brother Lewis. A memorial ceremony open to friends and colleagues will be in January.

You can read James Fergason's obituary in the San Jose Mercury News.