Photo of George Heilmeier

George Heilmeier

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his major contributions to the technological competitiveness of the United States and the cause of national defense.

In the mid-1960s, electrical engineer George Heilmeier was working in a research laboratory of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), when he and others began experimenting with creating images electronically by manipulating tiny liquid crystals mounted between thin layers of glass.

From those experiments, Heilmeier developed the world’s first liquid-crystal display (LCD), a technology that is now ubiquitous in telephones, digital watches, computer monitors and flat-screen televisions. In May 1968, RCA announced that it had refined the technology well enough to plan for its use in new products, such as clocks.

At a time when television sets were heavy items that housed large cathode-ray tubes, LCD had the potential to revolutionize consumer products. However, Heilmeier lamented that American companies were not quick to adopt the new technology, and said during an interview that companies in Japan were “cleaning our clock” by adopting the new technology quickly. Companies around the world have since adopted LCD technology, making way for flat-screen televisions that hang on walls and computers that can fit into our pockets.

By Jen Santisi