In 1997, the ISU Foundation and ECpE department established the David C. Nicholas Professorship to support the activities of an electrical engineering professor. The professorship was created with a portion of the royalties from a patent for fax technology that Nicholas (BSEE ’67; MSEE ’68; PhDEE ’71) developed when he was a graduate student at Iowa State. Nicholas invented the digital encoding process for fax machines that led to the development of the first generation of low-cost fax machines, making the machines commercially viable. Nicholas’ technology has been licensed to all but one of the major fax makers and his patent is the highest earning patent in Iowa State history, earning $36 million to date.
Nicholas worked at Rockwell Collins, where he has held engineering and management positions since 1971, until his retirement in 2009. At Rockwell Collins, he has worked on the design of telephone switching systems, mobile satellite communications systems, avionics systems, and engineering continuing education programs. Nicholas holds 12 patents and was inducted into the Iowa Inventors Hall of Fame in 1992.