Robert W. Degrasse, PH.D.

ROBERT DEGRASSEJuly 4, 1929 – May 22, 2018

Robert Woodman DeGrasse (Bob) passed away peacefully with his loving wife at his side on May 22, 2018. He and his twin sister, Ruth, were born on the 4th of July in 1929 to Pearl and Merch DeGrasse in Yakima, Washington. John and Merch, Jr rounded out the family. 

Bob was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 65 years, and his children Bob Jr. (Sarah Killory), Lori (Jeff Eirich), Cheryl (Johanna Hall) and Don (Martha). He had eight grandchildren: Emily and Benjamin DeGrasse; Paul, Dan and Christine Bobba; and Daniel, Andy and Sarah DeGrasse.

He loved snow skiing, golf, camping and fishing; and in retirement, traveling the world over with his wife. He was active in Boy Scouts with his sons. He was a member of the Scottish Rite, Sertoma Service Club, Cal Tech Alumni Association, Sigma Xi, Sons in Retirement, HLAA and the Foothills Congregational Church in Los Altos. He enjoyed a regular lunch with his fellow Stanford alumni until the end.

Bob earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from Cal Tech in 1951 where he courted a UCLA coed named Marilyn. After graduating, he worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena on missile guidance systems. Bob and Marilyn were married in 1952 and soon moved to Stanford where he earned his PhD in 1958. In his spare time, he co-invented and marketed a system for viewing color pictures on black and white TVs called Colordapter.

With two kids in tow, the DeGrasses moved to New Jersey where Bob began working for Bell Laboratories. There he was deeply involved in Project Echo, the first satellite communications system that worked by bouncing a signal off a metallic balloon in space. He and his team co-invented the Ultra-Low Noise Traveling Wave Maser, a super-efficient microwave amplifier which captured the signal bounced off the balloon. This “maser” was the precursor of the Laser and used to discover cosmic background radiation which led to a lifetime interest in cosmology.In 1960, back to Los Altos and he became VP of R&D for Microwave Electronics Corporation (MEC). At MEC, he developed traveling wave tube amplifiers that were an essential component of the satellite communication system that provided TV coverage of the Japanese Summer Olympics in 1964. He moved on to help found Quantum Science Corporation where he applied the new economic tool of Input-Output analysis to forecasting component usage in electronics markets for major corporations and Wall Street analysts. 

It was during these years he developed his passion for computers and programming. In 1969, he co-founded Quantor Corporation. As VP of R&D, he oversaw the development of a Computer Output Microfiche system for large mainframe computer systems to archive data on film. As an essential part of the system, he pioneered software for indexing and searching data on the microfiche. He returned to Quantum Science in 1983 where he provided consulting support to major Japanese electronics suppliers specializing in computers and communications systems.

Throughout his life, Bob was driven by a desire to understand how things worked. He loved to tinker with everything from cars to solar panels to computers. After he retired, he kept abreast of the latest developments in physics, communication and computer science. He also developed software for auto parts stores under the banner of Transpro Systems, harkening back to his childhood in Yakima, Washington where he rebuilt car generators for his Dad’s business. He never lost his passion for thinking about the big questions in physics and life.

A memorial service to celebrate his life is planned for Saturday June 30 at 11:00 AM at the Foothills Congregational Church at 461 Orange Avenue in Los Altos. Donations can be made in his name to support the Kenya Water and Book Project in care of Foothills Congregational Church or to the Foothills Congregational Church.

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