Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service
By Andrew Myers
With contributions that ranged from radar to medicine to outer space, Elliott Levinthal, PhD '49, played an instrumental role in the rise of Silicon Valley.
The Stanford professor emeritus of mechanical engineering died January 14 at his home in Palo Alto. He was 89.
Brooklyn native Levinthal graduated from Columbia University in 1942 and got his master's at MIT in 1943. During World War II, he worked with Sperry Gyroscope, where he received a patent for a development in klystron design. At Sperry, he developed relationships with Russell Varian, '25, MA '27, Sigurd Varian and Ed Ginzton, Engr. '38, PhD '41. Friendships with these Stanford physicists and Silicon Valley pioneers lured Levinthal to Stanford for doctoral studies; he worked on nuclear magnetic resonance with Nobel laureate Felix Bloch.
Levinthal joined Varian Associates as a founding employee, rising to serve as research director and, ultimately, as a director of the company. Varian purchased the rights to Bloch's patents and Levinthal developed them into commercial instruments, laying the groundwork for the use of nuclear resonance as a tool in chemistry and biochemistry. He founded his own company, which developed some of the first defibrillators, pacemakers and cardiac monitors.
In 1961, he joined the genetics department at the School of Medicine, where he worked with Joshua Lederberg on the question of extraterrestrial life and experimental missions to Mars. As associate dean for research affairs at the medical school, he developed computer systems for the Medical Center, which led to the creation of an experimental computer for artificial intelligence in medicine. During a three-year leave from Stanford, Levinthal worked at the Defense Department, where he directed the defense sciences office at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Later he became associate dean of research at the School of Engineering.
Levinthal was active in the development of a number of Silicon Valley companies, including Arthur Rock's investment partnership, a notable early venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, and Neuroscience, later renamed Eunoe, which pursued research on devices to filter cerebrospinal fluid to treat Alzheimer's disease. His generous philanthropy included the establishment of the Levinthal Tutorials program in creative writing.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Rhoda; four children, David, '70, Judith, '73, Michael, '77, MBA '81, and Daniel, PhD '85; and seven grandchildren, including Leah Levinthal Leff, '08, MA '09.
Andrew Myers is the associate director of communications for the Stanford School of Engineering.
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