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An Interview with “Analog Guru” Carl Nelson

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Carl Nelson is an analog IC designer. He consults at Linear Technology, which was recently acquired by Analog Devices. Bob Dobkin, Linear Tech co-founder and CTO, notes, “Carl is the best, most inventive engineer I have ever worked with.”

Nelson has participated in many well-known designs, including the world’s most precise IC voltage reference, the LTZ1000. He holds 44 patents. When I asked Nelson about a plaque I remembered in the LTC lobby that listed his patents, he replied, “Yeah, it was a little embarrassing, but it did make me smile when I walked into work every day.” Nelson is considered one of the “analog gurus” at Linear Tech/Analog Devices.

While many have heard of the flamboyant analog engineers like Bob Widlar or Bob Pease, Nelson comes from a second generation of experts that let their work speak for itself. Nelson does remarkable designs in a quiet and unassuming way. Upon finding a nice picture I took of him in 2011 at his lab bench at Linear Technology (Fig. 1), I emailed him some questions about his life and his work.

1 Analog IC designer Carl Nelson at his lab bench at Linear Technology in 2011. The microscope is part of a probe station that lets Nelson test his IC die.

Where did you you grow up?

Homer, Alaska. It is the end of the road if you start at the tip of South America and drive north. There used to be a sign coming into town that said “Homer, Alaska—End of the Road.” Now it says, “Homer, Alaska, Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” Every summer the fishing derby winner tops out at over 300 pounds. It was a great place to grow up—nobody locked their doors.

Were you a prodigy who had a crystal radio when you were 12 years old?
I built an AM radio from a kit at age 10. It didn’t work at first. That taught me a valuable lesson about attention to detail. It was a tube radio that used “termination strips” for connection points. They came in…

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