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Dr. James Hillier, who retired as Executive Vice-President and Chief Scientist of RCA in 1977, received the 1981 Founders Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The award was presented to Dr. Hillier at the IEEE Convention in New York on April 6, 1981. Dr Hillier is being honored for "original contributions in electron microscopy and leadership in fostering a creative laboratory environment."
In 1980, Dr. Hillier was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his development of the electron microscope. The electron microscope provides extremely high-power magnifications and is widely used in medical, biological, and metallurgical research studies.
Dr. Hillier received his education at the University of Toronto where he and a fellow graduate student, Albert Prebus, designed and built the first successful high-resolution electron microscope in the Western Hemisphere. In 1940, Dr. Hillier joined RCA as a research physicist and in a few months designed the first commercial electron microscope in the United States.
Having developed the instrument in practical form, he then undertook the introduction of the electron microscope into general use as a new and powerful research tool, particularly for the biological and medical sciences. for several years, he continued to develop major engineering improvements in the instrument and several new techniques of biological specimen preparation. In his quest for complementary microanalytical techniques, he invented the electron microprobe.
For his contributions to the electron microscope as a vital tool of medical research, Dr. Hillier received an Albert Lasker Award from the American Public Health Association in 1960. In 1967, he was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering.
Following his work on the development of the electron microscope, Dr. Hillier was named General Manager of RCA Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1957. A year later, he was elected Vice-President. He was named Vice-President, Research and Engineering in 1968, and Executive Vice-President in 1969. He was appointed Executive Vice-President and Chief Scientist in 1976.
- RCA 1981 Company Biography
PRINCETON BOROUGH -- Dr. James Hillier, who develop the first operational electron microscope in 1938, died Monday, January 15, 2007 at University Medical Center at Princeton.
A longtime Princeton-area resident, He was 91.
The holder of 41 patents for various devices and processes, Hillier was a lifelong inventor who worked for RCA for more than 35 years, retiring in 1977 as executive vice president for research and senior scientist.
Born in Brantford, Ontario, in Canada, he received a scholarship to the University of Toronto, from which he earned bachelor's and master's degrees and his Ph.D.
While a graduate student in the university's physics department, he and fellow student Albert Prebus designed and built the first successful electron microscope. In 1939, Hillier became a research assistant at the Banting Institute of the University of Toronto Medical School to continue the development of the electron microscope.
During his years with RCA, Hillier developed the first commercially available electron microscope and oversaw the development of RCA's videodisc, a precursor to the DVD. In 1960, after receiving a joint award from the American Public Health Association and the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for medical research, Hillier told Time magazine, "The electron microscope is like the monkey wrench on the garage wall; what you do with it is the important thing."
In a 1980 interview with The Times of Trenton about his impending induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Hillier said, "The mind, and especially the subconscious mind, works all the time. The mind comes up with a lot of scattered ideas. The great discovery takes place when the mind puts the right ideas together in the right way. Then, 'Eureka!'"
After retiring from RCA, Hillier helped his wife, Florence, by delivery flowers for the Princeton flower shops she owned and managed. Following the death of his wife in 1992, after 55 years of marriage, he founded the James Hillier Foundation, which awards scholarships to science students from Brant County in Ontario.
Predeceased by two sons, James Robert Hillier and William Wynship Hillier, he is survived by his oldest son, J. Robert Hillier, the founder of West Windsor-based Hillier Architecture. He is also survived by his sisters, May Hillier of Brantford and Thelma Henshaw of Naples, Fla.; three grandsons, a granddaughter and three great- grandchildren.
A memorial service for Hillier will be held at the David Sarnoff Library at The Sarnoff Research Center in West Windsor at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25.
He will be buried in Brantford. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the James Hillier Foundation, 34 Hill Avenue, Brant ford, Ontario, Canada, N3R 4HI.
- January 18, 2007 News Story from The Trenton Times
James Hillier, 91; Co-Developed, Marketed Electron Microscope
By Adam Bernstein, Washington Post Staff Writer
James Hillier, 91, a physicist who co-developed and marketed the first commercially viable electron microscope in the United States, which had an enormous impact on science and medicine, died Jan. 15 at University Medical Center in Princeton, N.J. He had a cerebral hemorrhage.
Dr. Hillier completed a prototype of the microscope as a graduate student in Toronto before joining RCA's Princeton-based research laboratories in 1940. He spent many years refining the device and marketing it to universities and commercial science labs.
He shared a prestigious Albert Lasker Award for medical research in 1960 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1980 for his work on the microscope.
The instrument focuses a beam of electrons on an object in much the same way conventional microscopes use light. The higher resolution available with an electron beam allowed objects on the atomic and molecular level to be seen for the first time.
Dr. Hillier did not invent the electron microscope. That distinction is often given to German engineer Ernst Ruska, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics for his pioneering work in electron optics in the 1930s. Many others credit Reinhold Rudenberg, another German-born scientist, with major early developments in the electron microscope.
Dr. Hillier was born Aug. 22, 1915, in Brantford, Ontario. As a young man, his aspirations leaned toward commercial art in the manner of Norman Rockwell. However, he had a side interest in science, which was encouraged by his father, who was a draftsman-engineer, and one of his teachers.
"I had a teacher who thought I'd make a better engineer than artist," he once told an interviewer. "I really don't think my art was that bad!"
He was unable to afford college, but he won a scholarship to the University of Toronto that required him to focus on science and math. He received his undergraduate degree in 1937 and his doctorate in physics in 1941.
In the late 1930s, he and another graduate student began researching a theoretical electron microscope at the urging of a professor. By Christmas 1937, they had a working model Dr. Hillier called "strictly a string and beeswax operation."
"People had theoretically showed it could be done, but no one thought the instrument was practical," Dr. Hillier told Business News New Jersey in 1997. "Theory showed that if you had enough electrons hitting a specimen to achieve the magnification you needed, you would burn the specimen.
"Then a Belgian scientist discovered that if you made the specimen very thin, the electrons would go through it without heating it," he said. "All of a sudden, we had the equivalent of the glass slide that you use in a light microscope. We were able to look at bacteria, carbon black particles and other things. That is how we made the first electron microscope on this continent."
His first model magnified objects 7,000 times. After being hired by RCA, he worked under scientist Vladimir K. Zworykin and created a new type of lens that captured several hundred thousands times what an ordinary eye could see.
Within another generation, such microscopes could view an object at up to 2 million times magnification.
Dr. Hillier took an early RCA microscope on tour to show how it could be used to view the previously unseen, from tiny particles in paint to the structures of bacteria.
He also worked with doctors to develop images of how viruses attack living cells and to see the tissue of cancer cells. The second required finding a way to slice the tissue to a thickness of 1/250,000 of an inch.
Dr. Hillier described himself as the "unofficial marketing manager" of the RCA microscope, and he became well-versed in every scientific field -- "metallurgy, microbiology, you name it," he said -- to sell the microscope to universities and commercial science labs.
"In the first couple of years, we sold 50," he told Business News New Jersey. "They sold for $10,000. Demand picked up as people realized that they would lose competitively if their research wasn't on the same wavelength."
At RCA, Dr. Hillier rose to executive vice president of research and engineering before retiring in the late 1970s. Toward the end of his career, he helped develop a videodisc, a forerunner of the DVD, but the project was abandoned because videotapes were simpler to use.
In 1997, he and economist John Kenneth Galbraith were decorated with the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest honors.
His wife of 56 years, Florence Bell Hillier, died in 1992. A son, William W. Hillier, died in 2002.
Survivors include a son, J. Robert Hillier of New Hope, Pa.; two sisters; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
- January 22, 2007 Story from The Washington Post
James Hillier, 91; Designed First Practical Electron Microscope
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer
James Hillier, the Canadian-born physicist who made the first practical electron microscope, then personally convinced hundreds of scientists to use it, has died. He was 91.
Hillier died of a stroke Jan. 15 at University Medical Center in Princeton, N.J., according to his family.
Light microscopes can magnify objects 2,000-fold, making it possible to observe single-celled organisms and small sections of tissue. Hillier's first electron microscope, which he later called "strictly a string and beeswax operation," was capable of a 7,000-fold magnification, but subsequent improvements made by him and others brought it up to a million-fold - making it possible to observe individual molecules.
Today, the electron microscope is a common tool in laboratories throughout the world. In 1960, after he had won the prestigious Lasker Award for his work, Hillier told Time magazine: "The electron microscope is like the monkey wrench on the garage wall: What you do with it is the important thing."
Hillier did not invent the electron microscope. That feat is generally credited to German engineers Ernst Ruska, who received the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics for his work, and Reinhold Rudenberg.
Ruska's crude device could magnify objects about 1,500-fold, but it had significant problems, especially aberrations in the focusing of the electron beam that are similar to astigmatism in the human eye. The astigmatism made it impossible for the device to produce accurate images at high magnification.
While Hillier was in graduate school at the University of Toronto in 1937, his advisor, physicist Eli F. Burton, assigned him and fellow graduate student Albert Prebus to develop a working electron microscope. Within four months, they had put together a working model.
The key to their work was a device devised by Hillier, called the stigmator, that corrected astigmatism. The stigmator has since been a standard feature of electron microscopes.
The pair faced one large hurdle in their work, according to Hillier's son J. Robert: The electron beam would wander from the target every so often. Eventually they noticed that it happened on a schedule: Their lab was near a trolley line, and every time one passed by, its magnetic field pulled the beam off center.
Hillier spent another year perfecting his microscope, then took the design to Radio Corp. of America in Camden, N.J., where he joined the research staff and continued perfecting it. Within a short time, he had it operating near its theoretical limit of efficiency.
Because RCA's marketing people were focused primarily on radio and, later, television, he took it upon himself to promote the new product.
"I would bring in 15 or 20 people, usually in a particular discipline," he later told Business News New Jersey. "I'd show them the instrument and what could be done with it. Then I would find someone in the group who was really interested, and I'd invite him back in a couple of weeks.
"Meanwhile, I worked like the devil in the library, learning something about that discipline. By the time the person came back, I had learned enough, including how to prepare specimens. That was a novel selling technique and, almost invariably, I sold an instrument."
Within two years, he sold 50 instruments at $10,000 apiece and developed 50 pioneers in 50 different fields.
He served as director of RCA's research laboratory for more than a decade, overseeing the development of the Electrofax process for copying printed matter, the MOS transistor, CMOS circuits and RCA's VideoDisc System.
Hillier retired in 1973 and devoted himself to his "hobby" of playing the stock market and helping out in his wife's flower store in Princeton, where he made deliveries and built display shelves.
Hillier was born Aug. 22, 1915, in Brantford, Canada. As a youth, he was interested in ham radio and spotting barnstorming aircraft in the area. His father bought him a telescope so he could read the numbers on the planes, and he converted the eyepiece into his first microscope.
Because the family was poor, Hillier did not think college was in his future and he aspired to become a commercial artist, which did not require a formal education. A sympathetic high school teacher arranged a scholarship for him to the University of Toronto, but there was a catch - he had to study physics and math.
He returned the favor by endowing the James Hillier Foundation in Brantford, which each year provides several scholarships to students planning to study science in college.
Hilliard, who became a U.S. citizen in 1945, and his wife, the former Florence Marjory Bell, attended high school and college together. They had been married 55 years when she died in 1992.
A son, William Wynship Hillier, a television producer, died in 2002.
In addition to his son J. Robert, Hillier is survived by two sisters, May Hillier of Brantford and Thelma Henshaw of Naples, Fla.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
- January 23, 2007 Story from The Los Angeles Times
James Hillier Dies - National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee co-developed the electron microscope, earning him 1960's Lasker award for basic medical research
by Kirsten Weir
James Hillier, a physicist who helped to invent the first practical electron microscope and sought ways to make it useful to biologists, died January 15 after suffering a stroke. He was 91.
Hillier's first electron microscope magnified objects 7,000 times -- more than triple the magnification offered by existing optical microscopes at the time. "The electron microscope revolutionized the way we understand how things are put together," Jon Norenburg, president-elect of the American Microscopical Society, told The Scientist. "It's like taking another quantum leap past the light microscope."
Hillier and collaborator Albert Prebus developed the microscope while graduate students at the University of Toronto, building on the work of Ernst Ruska and his colleagues in Berlin. Hillier liked to think of himself as "the problem solver to get [the German concept] to work," his son, J. Robert Hillier, told The Scientist.
One early setback in the microscope's development, said Robert Hillier, was that the electron beam kept wandering off target. Soon his father recognized that it wandered on a regular schedule; an electric trolley ran near the lab, and the magnetic field of passing trolleys interfered with the beam. Problem solved, Hillier and Prebus succeeded in producing a working prototype in 1938.
In an oral history recorded for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), James Hillier said they quickly realized that the powerful electron beam would destroy organic material, unless the sample was thin enough that most electrons would pass right through it. "So we learned how to make extremely thin films of colloid" and to place biological samples on them "without burning them to a crisp," Hiller said.
In 1940 he joined RCA to work on a commercial version of the microscope. There, he refined his design and continued to improve the microscope over the next 13 years, helping increase its magnification power to 200,000. (Today's versions have reached a magnification power of up to 2 million). Much of his work involved developing ways to prepare biological specimens for viewing under the microscope. He worked closely with biologists to promote his invention, and enjoyed the opportunity to "learn some of the language and some of the principles of their science," he said.
In the 1940s, Hillier recalled, biologist Wendell Stanley came into the RCA research laboratory with a bottle of tobacco mosaic virus. Stanley had estimated the size of the virus through a variety of studies, but hadn't been able to see the tiny pathogen with an optical microscope. Together he and Hillier prepared a specimen and viewed the virus for the first time through the electron microscope. "He later got the Nobel Prize for this work," Hillier said. "These were some of the thrills that we got."
In 1958, Hillier became the director of RCA's research laboratories and went on to oversee projects such as the development of the video disc, a precursor to the modern DVD.
Hillier was born in Brantford, Ontario, and became an American citizen in 1945. He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto, earning a PhD in 1941. He received the Albert Lasker Award for basic medical research in 1960, and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1992, he created the James Hillier Foundation to provide scholarships to science-oriented students from his hometown of Brantford. The foundation became his passion in the last years of his life, his son said. "He was both a thinker and a tinkerer," he said. "He was very proud but outwardly very humble."
Hillier's wife, Florence, died in 1992. He is survived by his son, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
- January 25, 2007 Story from The Scientist
In memoriam: James Hillier
Renowned inventor, U of T alumnus dies at 91
By Ailsa Ferguson
James Hillier, co-inventor of the first practical electron microscope, died Jan. 15 of a cerebral hemorrhage in Princeton N.J. He was 91 years old.
Born in Brantford, Ont., Hillier attended the University of Toronto, receiving his BA in mathematics and physics in 1937, his MA in 1938 and his PhD in 1941. But science was not his first choice when he was growing up, although he had a side interest it: he thought he would like to be a commercial artist. However, he didn't have the funds to go to college until one of his teachers secured him a science scholarship at U of T. He decided to seize the opportunity and found he had a real talent for it.
In 1937, shortly after receiving his BA, Hillier and fellow graduate student Albert Prebus, working under the supervision of Professor E.F. Burton, head of the physics department, designed and built the model for today's electron microscopes. Although they did not invent the electron microscope, they were the first to make it practical.
Instead of focusing rays of light as an optical lens does, the electron microscope lens focuses a beam of electrons. Since the wavelengths of speeding electrons are much smaller than those of light, an electron microscope could reveal much smaller objects than the optical units of the day. Their improved electron microscope produced resolutions usable in a lab. It had a magnification of 7,000 times, significantly better than the available optical microscopes, which had a magnification of 2,000 times.
Although it was a small sensation in Canada, when Hillier took this design to RCA in Camden, N.J., following completion of his doctorate, and developed it into the prototype for the RCA production model, it caused something of a scandal. In a refrain that has since grown familiar, newspaper editorials criticized the Canadian scientific community for paying its best and brightest so little that many left for high-paying employment in the U.S.
"The local press painted me as a horrible example of the brain drain," Hillier told The Bulletin when he returned to U of T for his 60th class reunion in 1997. "I screamed bloody murder at that. I was doing it for the world. Creating the microscope was useful for everybody."
Hillier had a long and fruitful career at RCA, retiring as executive vice-president and senior scientist in 1977. He also discovered the principle of the stigmator for correcting astigmatism of electron microscope objective lenses, invented the electron microprobe microanalyser and conducted some of the basic research that led to the scanning electron microscope, among other achievements.
After he retired, Hillier devoted himself to promoting science education, talking to high school students about careers in science and serving on several university and scientific advisory councils. Because he would have been unable to attend university without scholarships, he established the James Hillier Foundation in 1993, which awards scholarships to promising science students in his hometown of Brantford.
Among the honours Hillier received for his extraordinary work are the Albert Lasker Award in 1960, induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1980 and appointment as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1997.
"He is known internationally as the co-inventor of one of the scientific wonders of the modern world," his citation states. "The electron microscope has opened up the tiniest corners of the universe to the scrutiny of medical and space researchers, biologists, chemists, geologists and a multitude of others."
- February 5, 2007 Story from The Bulletin - University of Toronto
Some say Dr. Hillier was transferred to Melpar, Inc., Falls Church, VA for a time after 1952. Then returned to RCA. I recall a person that looked like him listening inside a window at RCA Labs in June 1949 when I was outside talking to Jesse Epstein.
- Theodore Bones, Jr. (August 2003)
Listen to James Hillier's 1973 comments on Lum Fong - RCA's first successful VideoDisc.
In 1992, the James Hillier Foundation was established to preserve Dr. Hillier's legacy.
Read Dr. Hillier's Oral History at the IEEE History Center.
Search for patents issued to James Hillier.
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