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April 1: Carnegie Mellon Engineering Scholar Alfred A. Thiele Leaves Legacy of Innovative Research for University Community


Chriss Swaney                       

Carnegie Mellon Engineering Scholar Alfred A. Thiele Leaves
Legacy of Innovative Research for University Community

ThielePITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Alfred A. Thiele, a distinguished scholar in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, died suddenly March 26 in Pittsburgh.
Thiele, 71, contributed to the fundamental understanding of the physics behind magnetic bubble domains and invented some of the primary devices that were used in magnetic bubble computer chips during the early 1970s at Bell Telephone Labs in Murray Hill, N.J.  The Louisville, Ky., native earned his first patent at age 19 for research involving transistor technology for electric circuits.
"It's hard to believe he is gone because he had been skiing in Vail, Colo., just two weeks before his death," said friend and colleague Chris Bowman, director of the university's Nanofabrication Center. "He was a wonderful researcher with a great sense of humor and a love of life and sports," said Bowman, who often went sailing with Thiele.
After working for two years on a bubble memory project at Burroughs Corp. in San Diego, Thiele came to Carnegie Mellon in 1981. But long before his career developed at Carnegie Mellon, Thiele rubbed shoulders with individuals who would ultimately become lifelong colleagues.
Both Thiele and Bob White, a former director of the university's Data Storage Systems Center, shared the same faculty adviser while they were students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s. Mark H. Kryder, the founding director of the Data Storage Systems Center and the person who hired Thiele at Carnegie Mellon, worked on magnetic bubble memory devices at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center when Thiele was doing much of his most well-known work on the physics of magnetic bubble domains at Bell Labs.  
"He was a wonderful researcher and a real problem solver," said Kryder. "The work that Al Thiele did explaining the stability of magnetic bubble domains was seminal at the time, and is still being used in the design of perpendicular recording materials that are in every disk drive manufactured today," Kryder said.
Jimmy Zhu, the ABB Professor of Engineering and head of the university's Data Storage Systems Center, praised Thiele for his attention to detail and great capacity for thinking outside of the box.
Stanley H. Charap, a professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon who shared an office with Thiele, said his peer was always on the move. "He would pop in on his bicycle, and begin chatting with anyone passing by the office," Charap said.
An avid sportsman, Thiele enjoyed ice skating at Schenley Park and riding his bicycle through Oakland and Shadyside. A lifelong patron of the Metropolitan Opera, friends said he would take in an opera and then go ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
"I will especially miss our stimulating conversations about opera, a passionate interest we both shared," said Pat Grieco, administrative manager of the Data Storage Systems Center.
"He was a great friend, and a wonderful inspiration to graduate students who enjoyed mentally sparring with him about a broad range of research challenges," said Bowman, who drove to Kentucky to attend the April 1 funeral.