Alumnus, Caltech Board of Trustees Chair Emeritus, and visionary philanthropist Gordon Earle Moore (PhD '54), a pioneer of the modern electronics industry and a cofounder of Intel Corporation, passed away on March 24, 2023. He was 94 years old.
Moore, who maintained close ties to Caltech throughout his life, is remembered as a multi-talented American businessman and engineer, instrumental in the establishment of Silicon Valley. With time, his oft-quoted "Moore's Law" evolved to serve as a golden rule for the electronics industry, a guiding principle within the long-term research and development sector that drove global innovation and economic growth. Moore and his wife Betty then built one of the world's largest philanthropic foundations.
"Gordon Moore is an inspiration for Caltech students, alumni, and leaders," says David W. Thompson (MS '78), chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees. "With ambition, ingenuity, and magnanimity, he changed the world and positioned the Institute's scholars to pursue equally transformative goals."
The Moores' philanthropy reached across the Institute. They established generous funds for undergraduate scholarships, professorships, an engineering laboratory, and discretionary resources. In 2001, they personally donated $300 million to Caltech and contributed a second gift of $300 million to the Institute from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. At the time, the combined gifts totaling $600 million represented the largest donation ever to an institution of higher learning. The resources supported a range of academic areas, including health and medicine, alternative energy development, information systems, seismology, nanotechnology, and astronomy. The Moores provided an additional $100 million to Caltech in 2014, which was used to create a permanent endowment for graduate research. The gift was part of their $137 million total giving to Caltech's Break Through campaign.
"Gordon Moore had profound influence across academia, industry, philanthropy, and society," says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. "He helped shape Caltech through his leadership on the Board and through his generosity. Gordon's wisdom, his curiosity, his joy in life, and his humility will continue to inspire."
Born on January 3, 1929, in San Francisco, California, Moore earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1950. One day after marrying Betty Irene Whitaker, Moore began graduate studies at Caltech, earning a PhD in chemistry in 1954. He then joined the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University as a member of the technical staff, and in 1956, he joined the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, a transistor manufacturer founded by William Shockley (BS '32; Nobel laureate in Physics, 1956).
Moore and seven others left Shockley to form the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation in 1957, with Moore eventually serving as director of research and development. By 1959, the company had developed a practical method for manufacturing integrated circuits—circuits in which all the transistors, wiring, and other components were carved from a single silicon chip rather than being soldered together on a circuit board by hand. During the early 1960s, technological advances allowed transistors to become smaller and smaller.
In an article in the April 19, 1965 issue of Electronics magazine, Moore predicted the number of transistors that can fit on a chip would double every year, a trend he forecasted would continue through 1975. In 1975, he updated his prediction to once every two years. While originally intended as a rule of thumb, this principle, now known as "Moore's Law," has become the guiding principle for the industry, which endeavors to deliver ever more powerful semiconductor chips with proportionate decreases in cost.
During a 2015 interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Moore said of his law, "I had no idea that it was going to turn out to be a relatively precise prediction, but I knew that the general trend was in that direction." He went on to express surprise over its accuracy: "Oh, I'm amazed. The original prediction was to look at ten years, which I thought was a stretch. This was going from about 60 elements on an integrated circuit, to 60,000—a thousandfold extrapolation over ten years."
"Progress doesn't happen passively. Moore's Law drove Intel, and Gordon made it happen, step by step," says Carver Mead (BS '56, MS '57, PhD '60), Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, and Distinguished Alumnus. "He was a model of what leadership in industry could be. And Moore's Law was not just a statement of technology; it was a statement of leadership."
In 1968, Moore and his colleague Robert Noyce cofounded Intel. Moore served as executive vice president of the company until 1975 and as CEO from 1975 to 1987. Intel developed techniques for fabricating computer-memory chips from metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors, or MOSFETs, which drew less power and ran faster than competing devices. The company paved the way for personal computers when it introduced the first commercially available microprocessor chip, the Intel 4004, in 1971. By the end of the 1980s, Intel was the primary source of microprocessors to the PC industry.
Under Moore's leadership—first as CEO, and then as chairman of the board until 1997, when he became chairman emeritus—Intel grew from a Mountain View-based startup to a Silicon Valley giant, valued at more than $120 billion today.
Named a Caltech Distinguished Alumnus in 1975, Moore became a Caltech trustee in 1983, a senior trustee in 2001, and a life member of the Caltech community in 2009. He served as Caltech Board chair from 1993 to 2000; the year he and his wife established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating positive outcomes for future generations in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world. He has also served on the board of directors of Conservation International and Gilead Sciences, Inc.
Among numerous honors, Moore was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology (now the National Medal of Technology and Innovation), and in 2002, he received the nation's highest civilian honor, the National Medal of Freedom.
Moore is survived by his wife Betty, sons Kenneth Moore and Steven Moore, and four grandchildren.