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Dec 6, 2008

Racer Ian Gunn, R.I.P.

J. B. "Ian" Gunn, 80

J.B. (John Battiscombe) "Ian" Gunn, inventor of the Gunn diode, died on December 2, 2008 at age 80 in his Mt. Kisco N.Y. home. He was attended by his daughters Janet Gunn and Gillian Clissold , both of Nokesville, VA; Donna Gray, of Katonah, NY, and their husbands. The cause of death was colon cancer. Gunn was predeceased by his wife of 25 years, Freda Elizabeth (Pilcher) Gunn, in 1975. His older half-brother, the British jazz artist Patrick "Spike" Hughes, died in 1987.

In 1963, while Gunn was working in semiconductor research at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Lab in Yorktown, he discovered that by applying a constant voltage in excess of a critical level to opposite faces of a germanium semiconductor, he could produce microwave oscillations. The Gunn effect, as this became known, led to the Gunn diode, the first cheap source of microwave power that did not require vacuum tubes. Later in his career he made valuable contributions in the areas of virus functions in the computer programming language APL, modeling regenerative braking for fuel efficient cars, and in multi-valued logics.

John Battiscombe Gunn was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1928 to Egyptologist Battiscombe "Jack" Gunn , a leading scholar of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Lillian Frances (Meena) Meacham Hughes Gunn, who studied psychoanalytic technique with Sigmund Freud. The family returned to England in 1934 when Jack Gunn was appointed professor of Egyptology at Oxford, a post he held until his death in 1950. Except for the two years he spent in the U.S. as a wartime evacuee, J.B. was schooled in England, earning a degree from Trinity College, Cambridge. He was working at the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern when a professorial post in physics opened at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and he moved his family to Canada. Three years later he accepted a job offer at IBM's new research lab in Yorktown, remaining there until retiring in 1990. He was named an IBM fellow in 1971.

J.B. Gunn was given the Morris Liebman Memorial Award by the IEEE in1969, the John Scott Award of the City of Philadelphia 1971, as well as the Valdemar Paulsen Gold Medal by the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (foreign status) in 1978 and later to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A chance ride with a friend at Trinity College started J.B. Gunn's lifelong affair with the motorcycle. He quickly graduated to racing bikes and paused on the way to his honeymoon in 1950 to enter a race. Over the years he bought a succession of vehicles, some of which he rebuilt extensively. His love of derelict classic motorcycles was matched by an enthusiasm for acquiring the machinery to restore them. Not long after Gunn won the Novice Twins race at Daytona at age 62, beating riders "a third of his age" he was given an extended profile in Roadracing World magazine. The closing lines quote him as saying, "I'll keep at it as long as it is fun and in many ways I'm a mascot to others. I'm proof that racing life doesn't have to end at 40."
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