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Obituary: Professor Walter Spear

Electronics pioneer

Professor Walter Spear died on 21 February 2008. His pioneering work on amorphous semiconductors helped lay the groundwork for much of today's mobile phone industry.

Born in Germany, he came to Britain just before the war, and, as a student at Birkbeck, his passion for experimentation emerged. With Werner Ehrenberg, he designed and built a microfocus X-ray generator, which lead to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

He later took a job at the University of Leicester, where he met Peter LeComber. The two joined the University of Dundee in 1969, Spear as Harris Professor of Physics, and started a revolution in amorphous semiconductor research by making inexpensive silicon-based thin film electronic devices possible. They made the first amorphous silicon p-n junction - the building block of electronic devices - and showed that it could convert light into electricity. This led to the development of a device that is found in virtually every mobile phone screen today. His legacy, held with LeComber, is the ubiquitous liquid crystal display of the mobile information age.