Youthful Impact

 

October 28, 2014

John M. Cohn's (E'91) passion has impact. From cutting edge computer chip design to addressing world issues through technology to sparking budding scientific curiosity, the Carnegie Mellon University alumnus is helping to change the world.

Cohn is widely regarded as a pioneer in chip design automation, garnering more than 65 patents, 30 technical papers and contributions to four books on the topic through his 33 years with IBM. He was named an IBM Fellow in 2006, the company's highest technical honor, given to just 246 people in IBM's more than 100-year history.

As excited as he is to further science and technology in his day job, he's even more enthusiastic to share that passion with youth. His dedication extends from his favorite activity — a traveling road show filled with shooting fire and electrified pickles — to educational videos and a stint on Discovery Channel's engineering survival show "The Colony."  

"I believe science is beautiful, like music or art, and my interest is in sharing that," Cohn said. "The best thing is when somebody gets excited about it — you can see the look in their eyes."

"I know how important it was to me as a kid," he added. "A child shouldn't reach adulthood without being exposed to that visceral love of science, technology and materials."

The self-described 'space age baby' grew up in Houston among astronaut families, drawn to taking things apart and refurbishing them.

"I watched every launch," he said. "It was so much a part of our existence and a huge influence on me. I never remember not loving science."

Cohn came to CMU for his graduate degree in electrical and computer engineering, attracted by the school's impressive reputation and personal atmosphere.

He credits his time at CMU for much, including an invaluable network and helping him to crystallize his professional strengths.

The 2014 Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award recipient credits his time at CMU for much, including an invaluable network and helping him to crystallize his professional strengths.

"The network of people that I met have been incredibly helpful to me, professionally and in my other passions," he said. "The connections I made at CMU were absolutely key."

In 2009, Cohn appeared on "The Colony" in an effort to inspire a wider audience but found himself equally inspired by working once again with his hands. He transformed his career and is now a key figure helping IBM realize its vision of a "Smarter Planet."

Along with his work, he enjoys using technology to design musical instruments, festival Ferris wheels and to further the Maker movement, among countless other activities.

In the best Tartan tradition, however, his greatest passion is his youth outreach.

"It's where my heart is, where I'm most proud — the fact that I'm reaching kids," he said. "Even grown-up kids like me."

Article originally published here.