Kompfner, Rudolph

Kompfner, Rudolph
b. 16 May 1909 Vienna, Austria
d. 3 December 1977 Stanford, California, USA
Austrian (naturalized English in 1949, American in 1957) electrical engineer primarily known for his invention of the travelling-wave tube.
Kompfner obtained a degree in engineering from the Vienna Technische Hochschule in 1931 and qualified as a Diplom-Ingenieur in Architecture two years later. The following year, with a worsening political situation in Austria, he moved to England and became an architectural apprentice. In 1936 he became Managing Director of a building firm owned by a relative, but at the same time he was avidly studying physics and electronics. His first patent, for a television pick-up device, was filed in 1935 and granted in 1937, but was not in fact taken up. In June 1940 he was interned on the Isle of Man, but as a result of a paper previously sent by him to the Editor of Wireless Engineer he was released the following December and sent to join the group at Birmingham University working on centimetric radar. There he worked on klystrons, with little success, but as a result of the experience gained he eventually invented the travelling-wave tube (TWT), which was based on a helical transmission line. After disbandment of the Birmingham team, in 1946 Kompfner moved to the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford and in 1947 he became a British subject. At the Clarendon Laboratory he met J.R. Pierce of Bell Laboratories, who worked out the theory of operation of the TWT. After gaining his DPhil at Oxford in 1951, Kompfner accepted a post as Principal Scientific Officer at Signals Electronic Research Laboratories, Baldock, but very soon after that he was invited by Pierce to work at Bell on microwave tubes. There, in 1952, he invented the backward-wave oscillator (BWO). He was appointed Director of Electronics Research in 1955 and Director of Communications Research in 1962, having become a US citizen in 1957. In 1958, with Pierce, he designed Echo 1, the first (passive) satellite, which was launched in August 1960. He was also involved with the development of Telstar, the first active communications satellite, which was launched in 1962. Following his retirement from Bell in 1973, he continued to pursue research, alternately at Stanford, California, and Oxford, England.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Physical Society Duddell Medal 1955. Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Medal 1960. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers David Sarnoff Award 1960. Member of the National Academy of Engineering 1966. Member of the National Academy of Science 1968. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Medal of Honour 1973. City of Philadelphia John Scott Award 1974. Roentgen Society Silvanus Thompson Medal 1974. President's National medal of Science 1974. Honorary doctorates Vienna 1965, Oxford 1969.
1944, "Velocity modulated beams", Wireless Engineer 17:262.
1942, "Transit time phenomena in electronic tubes", Wireless Engineer 19:3. 1942, "Velocity modulating grids", Wireless Engineer 19:158.
1946, "The travelling-wave tube", Wireless Engineer 42:369.
1964, The Invention of the TWT, San Francisco: San Francisco Press.
Further Reading
J.R.Pierce, 1992, "History of the microwave tube art", Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers : 980.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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