About me

Welcome to John Cohn’s web home. I will use these pages to collect information on my life and projects. By way of introduction, here’s a little info about me.

Personally

I’ve lived in Jonesville, Vermont for the last 26 year.. Before that I was at MIT in Boston with a year abroad in Vienna. I grew up… to the extent that I did in Houston,Texas=… which is why I live in Vermont. I met my wife and soul mate Diane here in 1982 .She was an engineer but changed direction and now teaches Yoga out of our house. She is the most wonderful and grounded people I’ve ever met… Together we raised 3 very cool boys, Max, Sam and Gabe in our old Schoolhouse in Jonesville. Max is now 20, amazingly creative and musical and grounded, Gabe is13 and a very cool and colorful snowboard/skateboard/lacrosse player with an amazing sense of style..  Our beautiful son Sam was killed in a tragic traffic accident in November of 2006. At the time he was 14 . Wonderful, strong and talented. He was an excellent snowboarder and musician. (Classical guitar and heavy metal drumming)and an old soul. I can’t begin to capture here what losing Sam has meant in our lives… But I will tell you this.Finding ways to honor his memory and living the example he set have made us all better people.One of the thing we do is hand out ‘SamStones’ Our family and friends make these fired clay stones in Sam’s memory. You can read more about Sam and SamStones on SamStones.org. I also blog daily on topics related to my life, family and interests.

I am currently one of 63 acting IBM Fellows, the most senior technical rank in IBM’s 200,000 person technical community.My specific role is Chief Scientist for Computer Aided Design for IBM. The group I lead helps create chips for everything from camcorders to video games to supercomputers. Though many folks may not know it, IBM designs the ‘brains’ inside all of the latest video game machines from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. I love these chips. Just getting the physics to work so that you can get a billion transistor chip to run at over 3 billion operations per second without melting is a huge challenge. In my role as one of the most senior chip folks at IBM, I get frequent opportunities to share my views on the wonders and challenges of modern microelectronics with all sorts of audiences including kids groups, parent groups,, industry peers, university students and professors, and customers. The great thing about working on these game chips is that it gives me an immediate relation point to folks whether they like computers or not.

Passions

My love of science goes way beyond my day job. I’ve been a science fanatic since the time I began to walk. As a young kid in Houston,TX, I had lots of role models nearby as my parents were friends with many of the NASA astronauts. With that motivation, I began taking apart everything I could get my hands on to figure out how they worked. By the time I was 12 or so I could even put some of them back together again.I built my own laboratory where I experimented with every sort of science material I could get my hands on. I did experiments in chemistry, physics, biology and math. I also learned to cut, saw, weld, solder, machine, blow glass etc. to allow me to build things like rockets, and radios, high voltage generators, lasers, telephone bugs, and pyrotechnics. My whole adolescence was about “getting dirty and blowing things up.” That passion for hands-on science only grew as I went through MIT. While there I studied microelectronics by day and worked at the MIT Media Lab at night. I came to really love the overlap between science, art and culture. I began to realize how everyone could come to love (or at least appreciate) science and technology if it was presented in the right fun and accessible way.After graduating from MIT I moved to Vermont and began the job of being a ‘grown up’ . It didn’t last long, however. I very quickly created a new laboratory in my converted schoolhouse. Since that time my experiments have gotten bigger and weirder. Over the past 25 years I have built demonstration equipment for science museums, portable science shows, science videos, TV, neighborhood ‘happenings’ etc.

Outreach

I get a huge amount of pleasure out of sharing my love of science and my field with others. I take pride in my ability to relate science topics to any audience. I love finding new, fun and sometime outrageous ways to demonstrate a concept. Many of my demonstrations involve large sparks or an explosion; I particularly enjoy the challenge of finding ways to relate to audience outside of my profession. I’m comfortable speaking in small groups, large groups and on camera. I very much enjoy interactive presentations and love being spontaneous. In 1992 my passion lead me to launch a science outreach program called ‘Jolts and Volts’ which illustrates the very cool properties of electricity from microvolts to megavolts. I use this program to drive home the importance of inventors and innovation. I specifically like to encourage people to begin thinking of themselves as inventors. In this same spirit I have developed an outreach stage program called ‘Inventors Like You’ designed to teach kids and teachers about inventors and invention. The program shows that inventors come in all ages, races and genders. I also enjoy doing science outreach to adult audiences. I give frequent talks to parents, university professors, and museum audiences on my field of microelectronics or other topics of general science. My current favorite is a stage show I developed called ‘High Tension’, the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla’ about the contributions of one of the world’s most prolific, and most overlooked, inventors. I estimate that as of 2008 I have performed science outreach presentations for more than 40,000 kids and adults at venues including schools, museums, camps, inner city programs, special needs programs, and universities both here and abroad .I am particularly proud of the program I do annually at Disney Epcot Center. My work has been covered by more than fifty US newspapers including USA Today, the New York Post, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe as well as network TV including CNN, CBS and ABC. (‘Google’ john cohn” science or “John Cohn” IBM to see some references. I also need to say that feel very fortunate that my company,IBM, and my family are so supportive of the time I put into these outreach efforts.

9 Responses to “About me”

  1. Steve Taranovich says:

    Hi John,
    I have just accepted the chairmanship of the Educational Activities Section of the IEEE Long Island Chapter. I have read about the work you are doing and encouraging for young students regarding engineering. I, like you, was encouraged as a young boy of 12 or 13 by the Space program (I was born in 1949) I saw the Mercury astronauts and all of the electronics that made the amazing vehicles fly safely to the stars. I said to myself, “I want to be involved in that”
    Thanks for your guidance in helping me understand what I need to do as Edicational Activities Chairman. I will encourage fellow EE’s in the IEEE to share their love of engineering with those youngsters who do not know what engineering is really about.
    I would love to discuss with you some ideas someday.
    Best Regards,
    Steve

  2. Bindu Madhavan says:

    Dear John,
    What is your email address ? I would like to send you a few comments on your ISSCC 2009 presentation.
    thank you,
    bindu

  3. Mike Fontes says:

    John,

    You look like an old man now. How are you? It seems like such a long time since I’ve talked to you.

    I’m living in West Danville and working at Fairbanks Scales. Deb is a speech pathologist in Barre.

    I saw the article in Automotive Design. I’m glad you are promoting engineering. I definitely see a loss since the time we got out of school. I have been trying to mentor some students an new engineers over the past few years. I keep thinking I would like to teach somewhere.

    If you have time take a minute and get back to me.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Fontes

  4. Diane McCafferty says:

    Hi John,
    Just saw the article in EE times (February 23, 2009) which quoted you heavily. So nice to hear about you. Just found your website again. You are an inspiration to all engineers.
    It was great to see you at IBM a few years ago. Keep up the good work and congratualtions on being a Fellow!

    I still remember our work “anniversary”: August 3, 1981.

    Diane

  5. Michael says:

    John,

    Maybe it’s not only the kids that need enlightenment. How can engineering flourish in a world that reveres the financial services industry, lawyers and accountants, despite the destructive results of theire greedy activities?

    It’s the decision makers that need to know that engineering is important. Will that happen anytime soon?

  6. Dean Klein says:

    Hello John.

    I missed your ISSCC talk, but read the EE Times article about you today. I share your passion for inspiring our youth to careers in engineering. I, too, try to pass my enthusiasm on to the youth I interact with. Recently I’ve been one of the mentors to a FIRST Robotics Competition team, and it’s been an absolute blast! (See http://www.usfirst.org or http://www.bullbots.org).

    Kudos to you and all the other engineers that see the big picture and are trying to do something about it!

    Regards,
    Dean

  7. MRDPE says:

    I appreciate your collection of links, etc. on your EDUCATION OUTREACH page; very useful – Thanks!

    Best Wishes

    MRDPE

  8. jamrs novotny says:

    John,

    I happened to see your presentation at NJIT this week. It was outstanding! Keep on encouraging kids to pursue science, engineering, and design careers! As a technology education teacher, I too believe that kids need to see how exciting science and technology can be. Your Tesla generator was awesome. As part of our Electricity for AP Physics course, we have students replicate the designs of famous scientist. By far my favorites are always always the Tesla models. If you ever have an opening when you’re in NJ, I’d love to have you meet our students. They would love to see and hear your stories and exoeriences!

    Jim N.

  9. Alex says:

    I’m a student at SUNY Buffalo, and I just wanted to say thank you for the great presentation today! Thanks for taking the time to talk to our class, it was really fascinating.