In memoriam: Professor Emeritus Kenneth C. Smith (1932-2023)

Professor K.C. Smith at an ECE event
Professor Emeritus Kenneth C. (‘K.C.’) Smith was a former Chair of the department. He co-wrote an introductory undergraduate textbook in electronics that has been translated into several languages and sold over a million copies around the globe. (Photo: michael t photography & design inc.)

NOVEMBER 30, 2023 • By Baakal Geleta

ECE Professor Emeritus Kenneth C. (‘K.C.’) Smith (BASc 5T4, MASc 5T6, PhD 6T0), who passed away on October 29, 2023, at the age of 91, was an internationally renowned scholar with over 150 papers published in numerous fields. Along with his colleague Professor Emeritus Adel Sedra, he wrote the undergraduate textbook Microelectronic Circuits, known colloquially as ‘Sedra/Smith,’ which has sold over a million copies since its 1982 publication and influenced generations of students worldwide.

“His influence in the department cannot be overstated,” says Professor Deepa Kundur, Chair of ECE. “In reflecting on K.C.’s legacy, we celebrate not only his academic achievements but also the profound impact he has had on the lives of students, colleagues and the broader engineering community. He was a true thought leader and mentor to so many."

Smith’s professional career began with his tenure as a Research Engineer at the Computation Centre at the University of Toronto in 1956, where he was assigned to assist in the development of high-speed computers as part of a collaborative program with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In the early 60s, he split his time between the two universities, and at Illinois distinguished himself as the Chief Engineer of Illiac II and Illiac III, two early revolutionary supercomputers. He returned to U of T in 1965 and achieved placement as Full Professor, later serving as the Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering from 1976 to 1981.

A prolific researcher, Smith’s publications spanned a wide array of fields, from electronic circuits, computer architecture and multiple-valued logic to machine vision, human-computer interfaces and neural networks, among many others.

He co-invented, along with Sedra, the current conveyor — a groundbreaking circuit component akin to an operational amplifier. He also co-founded and held the role of principal scientist at Z-Tech, a medical instrumentation company specializing in bio-impedance measurement devices for breast cancer detection, underscoring his dedication to the practical application of engineering principles.

Smith’s impact extended to the global stage with his appointment as advisory professor in communications at China’s Shanghai Tiedao University in 1989. Later, he also served as a visiting professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he played a pivotal role in founding its computer engineering department.

His commitment to the wider engineering community is evident through his leadership positions in professional societies, including the Chairmanship of the Publications Council of the Canadian Society of Electrical Engineering (CSEE) and a Directorship at the Canadian Society for Professional Engineers (CSPE). He was recognized by many awards throughout his career, including his election as a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), later named a Life Fellow in 1996. He earned the IEEE Computer Society Certificate of Appreciation, the IEEE Canada Computer Medal and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Information Technology Association of Canada, among others.

Smith stayed committed to nurturing future generations by establishing the Kenneth Carless Smith Engineering Science Research Fellowship. This fellowship continues to support and inspire students in the Engineering Science program at U of T. In 2012, the International Symposium on Multiple-Valued Logic honoured him by establishing the Kenneth C. Smith Early Career Award for Microelectronics Research, a fitting tribute to his enduring contribution to the field.

“His passion for education, commitment to service, dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and innovative spirit will endure as source of inspiration to many,” says Kundur. “K.C. will be missed.”

A fund has been set up to honour Professor Emeritus K.C. Smith’s legacy to the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Donations are welcome.