Robert G. Plantz, PhD, Professor Emeritus

My career(s)

After graduating from Canoga Park High School (1956) I went to Los Angeles Pierce Jr. College, where I got an A.A. degree in Engineering in 1959. While attending Pierce JC, I worked as an Engineer’s Aide at Marquardt Corp. They built ramjet engines for the BOMARC missile. I worked with the engineers who analyzed test data.

I took the Fall 1959 semester off and then transferred to U.C. Berkeley, where I got a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1962. My fields of emphasis were Control Systems and Computers. This led to a job at Advanced Technology Labs where I did analog circuit design for the horizon scanners on the Gemini Space Capsule and the Lunar Entry Module.

While working at Advanced Technology Labs I got my M.S. degree at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University), continuing with my emphasis in control systems and computers. During that time I learned about the newly formed IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, which would take me on another path.

I returned to U.C. Berkeley for my Ph.D. studies in 1963, where I was awarded a Traineeship in the new Bioengineering program. My home department was Electrical Engineering, and my research project was in the Biophysics Department. We were studying the effects of radiation on the vestibular organs, which was funded by a NASA-AEC grant. I developed a mathematical model of the horizontal semicircular canals in the inner ear. Dissertation: A Dynamic Analysis of Semicircular Canal Evoked Eye Movements.

My next stop was U.C. San Francisco for a Postdoctoral Interdisciplinary Traineeship. There I studied Auditory Brainstem Responses with Dr. Don L. Jewett, the discoverer of the phenomena. The lab purchased a Data General Nova 3 minicomputer, and I came to enjoy programming more than the physiology research.

This revelation took me in 1977 to what was becoming Silicon Valley. I worked as a software design engineer on a CT scanner (Syntex), a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (Finnegan Instruments), and a device to test peripheral vision (Coherent). The CT scanner and GC/MS jobs involved assembly language programming of Data General Nova and Eclipse computers. I did applications programming using an in-house programming language running on an Intel 8080 for the peripheral vision device at Coherent.

My next career adventure was being a self-employed software engineer. I spent most of my time writing assembly language on an IBM Series/I minicomputer for an automated shipping container handling system. I worked mostly on the in-house database system and user interfaces, including a GUI that employed a light pen as the pointing device.

During my self-employment period I taught assembly language programming and an introduction to computers class part time at City College of San Francisco. In 1983 I accepted a position as Professor of Computer Science at Sonoma State University in the Mathematics Department. We became a separate department in 1986, and I served as the first Department Chair. During my 21 years at Sonoma State I taught all the core courses and many electives in the department.

Summary of work experience