Ralph Harris

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Ralph Harris
Ralph A. Harris headshot.png
Latest company Texas Instrument
BSc Electrical Engineering
BSc university University of Oklahoma


Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by Anthony F. Amante


June 8, 1985 marked the start of Ralph A. Harris' 39th year as a major contributor to the geophysical industry. In 1947, following a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Ralph completed work on his B.S. in electrical engineering degree at the University of

Oklahoma and joined Geophysical Service Inc. In the following six years he worked as computer, observer, and field service engineer. The first-hand experience with field problems, gained during this phase of his career, gave him an understanding of the instrumentation needs of the industry that few have equaled. It placed him in a position, in 1952 when he transferred to the parent company Texas Instruments, to father six generations of seismic instruments. On completion of the Texas Instruments 7000B, a vacuum tube seismic data acquisition amplifier system in 1957 (the last unit of which was retired from active service when it was struck by lightning in 1979), Ralph mastered the blossoming transistor technology and harnessed it to produce, by 1959, the industry's first really portable system, the all-transistorized TI 8000 amplifier system.

By then the industry was coming to the realization that the days of analog recording systems were numbered and that if the industry was to survive it could do so only through utilization of information theory and the digital computer. At that time a fundamental limitation in the application of these techniques was the accuracy and dynamic range of the data acquisition process. Development of the solution a digital data acquisition system became Ralph's next challenge. It was met with the design of the industry's first digital data acquisition system, the TI 9000, a vacuum tube amplifier system with a transistorized output and recording system. In 1965 Ralph added the next generation, the DFS 10000, a transistorized amplifier system and integrated circuit recording system with ganged gain-ranging capability, to his list of achievements. This was followed in 1968 with the industry's first successful commercial binary gain amplifier system, the DFS 111, and in 1971 with the industry's first commercial instantaneous floating point amplifier system, the DFS IV. His crowning achievement, however, was the development of the most used digital system the industry has ever seen: the DFS V, more than 1,000 of which are still in use throughout the world.

Ralph Harris has worn many hats in his career: pioneer, teacher, market analyst, consultant, and most fortunately for the industry, inventor and engineer. He was granted six patents, the most recent of which is on an extended range seismic system, and has presented technical papers at Society functions on a number of occasions. Ralph's papers are renowned as models of clarity and complete freedom of commercial bias. His many achievements have been recognized at TI through the bestowal of the title, TI Fellow, an honor held by only some 30 other TI'ers in its population of 85,000.

Ralph would be the first to point out that although he may have been a moving force, those systems were really the result of the efforts of a small army of dedicated and very capable engineers. He is renowned for his integrity, even disposition, and industry. During the early years Ralph could be seen seven days a week, any hour of the day or night, working on some aspect of a new system. Even now he puts in a day that leaves many younger people exhausted.

Ralph could have retired a number of years ago. He chose instead to stay on and share his knowledge with the younger engineers. I know of no greater compliment to pay Ralph than to say that he represents the highest level of engineering competence; thorough, motivated, imaginative, understanding in the use of the latest technology, totally dedicated to his chosen profession and completely ethical in all his actions. In short, Ralph represents what an idealistic young engineer would define as a professional engineer. He is truly the "Engineer's Engineer." What a pleasure and honor it has been for me to work side-by-side with Ralph Harris these many years.