Donald Linder

Donald Linder
Donald Linder


Major and graduation year: Electrical Engineering, BS ’65

Location: Kildeer, Illinois

Choosing the best: After graduating from Iowa State with an electrical engineering degree in 1965, Donald Linder accepted a job with the Applied Research Department of the Communications Division of Motorola, Inc. in Chicago. Linder credits Sputnik and the success of the American space program for the job opportunity he was given after graduation because the country was entraced with science. “Most graduating engineers got as many job offers as they wanted,” he says. “I had about seven different offers before choosing Motorola.”

Leading the design: In 1972, Motorola executives asked Linder and his team to create the world’s first portable phone. Linder was the primary designer leading a team of a dozen engineers. Prior to Linder’s deisgn, mobile phones were large, heavy, and ran on car batteries, but his team was able to make huge reductions in the weight and size of the electronics through new chip designs and other advances. “We built it out of parts already available, some new parts, and two custom integrated circuits not even completed at the time we started the project,” says Linder. “We relied on the talent and experience of the people building each of the pieces to make it work.”  Roughly three months after the project’s initiation, the team celebrated their success: the creation of the world’s first portable phone, the DynaTAC Portable.

Continuing cell phone innovation: Linder and his team continued to make size and weight reductions to mobile phones in the following years, and that continuous development helped bring about the cell phone as we know it today. His research group is also credited with the design of the analog portion of the first practical wireless phone. When the original analog system was replaced by a digital system, his team developed specifications and prototypes for digital cell phones. In 1987, Linder was named vice president of the technical staff at Motorola, then director of the Corporate Applied Research Labs in 1990. In 1994, Linder joined the Cellular Subscriber Sector of Motorola to found a research lab, which developed several generations of custom processors for CDMA (code division multiple access) digital signals, pioneered the use of GPS in cell phones, and developed voice recognition technology for hands-free dialing in vehicles.

Global recognition: During Linder’s career, he received both the Motorola Dan Noble Fellow Award (1976) and the Motorola Distinguished Innovator Award (1992), as well as served as a member of Motorola’s Science Advisory Board Associates. While working at Motorola, he received a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he has been awarded 13 patents, many of which are incorporated into Motorola’s products. In 2001, Linder retired as vice president and director of Motorola’s cellular subscriber sector research lab. In 2007, Linder and his engineering team were awarded the Great Moments in Engineering Award from GlobalSpec in honor of the 35th anniversary of the creation of the first portable, hand-held telephone. He was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame in 2008, as well as a recipient of the ISU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009.