Bells and Micromachines

July/August 2006

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Bells and Micromachines

Chuck Painter

At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989, James Browne Angell—the University’s long-time carillonneur—was on the 13th floor of Hoover Tower. He and his bell-playing protégé, Timothy Zerlang, DMA ’89, were preparing for a concert. Then the earth began to shake.

Chunks of Jane Stanford’s beloved Memorial Church fell to the ground. Entire floors in the Quad shifted. On the 13th floor at Hoover Tower, books were knocked all over the floor.

Unfazed, Angell climbed over the mess and began playing a Flemish song he hoped would calm the rattled campus. “I got a tremendous shot of adrenaline,” he told Stanford Report in a 2002 interview. “I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.”

Angell, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering and a pioneer in the field of micromachines, died February 13 at his home in San Francisco. He was 81. Angell was born on Staten Island and educated at MIT. From the time he arrived at Stanford in 1960, he was doing cutting-edge work with integrated circuits. After a physician happened to mention that perhaps chips could be used in probes for brain surgery, Angell jumped on the idea and spent the next two decades developing medical probes and sensors. He coined the term “micromachine,” using it in a 1978 paper. “Angell went into the field before there was a field to go into,” professor of electrical engineering Gregory Kovacs, PhD ’90, MD ’92, noted in a 2001 interview with Forbes ASAP. For many years, Angell was chair of graduate admissions for the electrical engineering department.

The official University carillonneur from 1960 until 1991, he performed a 1964 concert for the 90th birthday of former President Herbert Hoover, 1895. Zerlang, who succeeded Angell as the head bell player, says, “He brought energy and a sense of humor to everything. He loved to have fun up there.”

After the Stanford bells had a hiatus for refurbishment in the late 1990s, Angell wasn’t able to play again (the instrument requires a fair bit of strength), but he relished seeing the carillon shine once more.

He was preceded in death by Elizabeth “Betty Belle” Rice Angell, his wife of 50 years. Survivors include his children, Carole and Charles, and a grandson, Charles James.

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