Emeritus professor Lester Eastman dies at 85

Lester Eastman

Lester F. Eastman, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering, died Aug. 9 at the age of 85.

A member of the Cornell faculty for more than 50 years, Eastman was the John L. Given Professor of Engineering, holding that title until he received emeritus status in 2011.

Eastman was a founding member, in 1977, of the National Science Foundation program at Cornell on submicron structures, now known as nanostructures, used in microwave transistors. The research he and his students did involving gallium nitride and related materials and on microwave power transistors now permeate commercial and defense applications.

Since 1965, Eastman had been researching compound semiconductor materials, high-speed devices and circuits, and he had been active organizing workshops and conferences on these subjects at Cornell from 1967-2000.

In June 2008, friends and colleagues honored Eastman with a symposium titled “Tubes to Transistors; Megahertz to Terahertz,” which celebrated Eastman’s 60th year at Cornell.

“Professor Eastman has left an enduring legacy, not only among his students and the researchers whose careers he influenced, but also everyone in the semiconductor industry and the entire Cornell community,” said Tsuhan Chen, director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He will be missed by us all.”

Over the years Eastman’s students and former students made significant contributions and won national and international prizes by advancing the state of the art of molecular beam epitaxy and microwave transistors, and optoelectronic devices.

Eastman joined Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering as an assistant professor in 1957, was promoted to associate professor in 1960, and to full professor in 1966. In 1985, he became the John L. Given Professor in Engineering. After his retirement in 2011, he continued to mentor students and colleagues from several scientific disciplines.

After serving as a radar specialist for the commissioning voyage of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea from 1946-1948, Eastman earned his B.S.E.E. in 1953, his M.S. in 1955 and his Ph.D. in 1957, all in electrical and computer engineering, from Cornell. During basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Academy and at Cornell, he was a lineman on the football team.

He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a member of the Electromagnetics Academy. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1986 for pioneering and continuing contributions to communications technology resulting from the development of high-speed and high-frequency semiconductor devices and advanced microelectronics. He was instrumental in securing industry support to establish and build Cornell’s nanofabrication center, now the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility.

Eastman is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Calling hours will be at Bangs Funeral Home in Ithaca, Aug. 15, 4-6 p.m. He will be buried with full military honors at East Lawn Cemetery in Ithaca, Aug. 16 at 11 a.m.

A memorial celebration of Eastman’s life will take place Aug. 16 at 1 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the American Diabetes Foundation or to the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca.

Media Contact

Syl Kacapyr