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James K. Roberge, professor of electrical engineering, dies at 75

A member of the MIT faculty since 1967, Roberge spent nearly his entire professional career at MIT.
James K. Roberge
James K. Roberge

James K. Roberge, a professor of electrical engineering and a member of the MIT faculty since 1967, died Friday, Jan. 10, at age 75. Roberge continued teaching in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) through last semester.

Born in Jersey City, N.J., in 1938, Roberge came to MIT in 1956, earning his SB, SM, and ScD degrees, all in electrical engineering. For nearly all of his professional career, Roberge worked for MIT — from postdoc to full professor, a position he attained in 1976. Starting in 1969, Roberge also performed research as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

At Lincoln Lab, Roberge’s research interests in the areas of electronic circuits and systems design led him to work in a division involved in space communications, instrumentation, and optical communications. His designs have flown on nine satellites.

Vincent Chan, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, headed the division at Lincoln Lab in which Roberge worked. Chan says that Roberge’s most important contributions were in ultrahigh-efficiency power converters for spacecraft and high-precision optical tracking electronics for space-laser communications.

“[Roberge] brought together his knowledge of circuit designs, control system theory, and a large dose of ingenuity to design these systems,” Chan notes. Despite the fact that some of Roberge’s work was done in the 1980s and 1990s, Chan says, “it still represents the state of the art.”

Roberge was also cited by colleagues for his mentorship of students and of newer faculty. Charles Sodini, the Clarence J. LeBel Professor of Electrical Engineering, notes: “I taught 6.301, Solid-State Circuits, and 6.302, Feedback Systems, as a recitation instructor for Jim. It was a pleasure to learn the material from someone who had it in his DNA.”

Roberge was also revered for his teaching and mentoring — encouraging a number of students who are now following in his academic and research footsteps. David Trumper, a professor of mechanical engineering, began his association with Roberge as an undergraduate in 6.301 and 6.302 — classes that he says “opened up analog circuits as a design discipline.”

Roberge served as Trumper’s undergraduate thesis advisor, and later as his PhD advisor. Trumper recalls Roberge’s “keen insights and easy confidence that pretty much any problem could be solved if you looked at it from the right perspective.”

Kent Lundberg, currently a visiting senior lecturer in EECS, was Roberge’s student while earning his SM and PhD in electrical engineering at MIT. Lundberg — who had taught 6.331 with Roberge since 1994 and co-taught 6.331 with him last semester — says that “knowing Professor Roberge was the best part of my education at MIT.”

Through his research and eye for practical application, Roberge received 12 patents and worked with more than 160 consulting clients. He was co-founder of the Hybrid Systems Corporation, later acquired by Sprague, and of the Aerogage Corporation. Roberge also authored several books, including “Operational Amplifiers: Theory and Practice” — a text widely recognized as authoritative.

EECS department head Anantha Chandrakasan, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering, summarized Roberge’s impact in an announcement to colleagues, saying: “Jim was a wonderful colleague, teacher, researcher and mentor. He was legendary for his teaching of analog circuits (6.002, 6.301, 6.302, 6.331) and his approach to these subjects had a profound influence on generations of students.”

Roberge is survived by his wife, Nancy J. Roberge; his son, James D. Roberge; and his daughter, Anne E. Roberge. A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Douglass Funeral Home, 51 Worthen Rd., Lexington, Mass. Donations in Roberge’s memory may be made to the MIT Scholarship Fund.

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