By Sterling McGinn

Between performances at the Engadine Consolidated Schools (ECS) spring music and band concert on April 22, the school science and technology wing was officially named in honor of the late Ross Freeman, an Engadine native and electrical engineer, and inventor of the Field Programmable Gate Array.

More than 20 of Freeman’s family members, plus friends and community members, gathered in the gymnasium for the dedication which featured presentations by seniors Aaliyah Nelson and Elijah Parker. Michigan State Senator John Demoose and Rich Rossway, U.P. District Liaison for Congressman Jack Bergman also spoke during the ceremony.

Google Ross Freeman’s name online without adding “Engadine” or “Michigan” or the “United States” and you will find much information on the distinguished 1965 ECS graduate.

Now all students walking the halls of Engadine Consolidated Schools can learn about an alumnus who invented a computer chip still used in a number of electronic devises today. A plaque will be displayed in the hall very soon.

Freeman’s Field Programmable Gate Array is a computer chip full of open gates that engineers can reprogram as much as needed to add new functionally, adapt to changing standards or specifications, and make last-minute design changes. He invented the chip in 1985.

Freeman theorized that due the doubling of transistor density each year, “Moore’s Law,” an observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles about every two years, would allow for customized computer chips affordable for everyone. His theory was proven right, making the Field Programable Gate Array inexpensive and available.

Freeman was born on July 26, 1948, on a farm near Engadine. After graduating from ECS, he attended Michigan State University where he earned a B.S. in 1969 and earned a master’s in physics at the University of Illinois in 1971.

“At this point in his life, Ross wanted to join the Peace Corps, so he became a volunteer traveling to Ghana, Africa to teach electronics and math,” said his sister, Joanie Freeman. “After the Peace Corps, Ross became an innovator and his journey as an inventor began working for Teletype Corporation and Zilog Inc.”

While at Teletype Corporation, he designed a custom PMOS circuit.

In 1984, Freeman and two others co-founded Xilinx, Inc, which was headquartered in San Jose, California.

“Xilinx product, the programable logic devices, have a variety of end products on earth, but they have also been used in space,” said Joanie Freeman. “Xilinx devices survive solar flares and are radiation tolerant in space.”

After Freeman’s untimely death in 1989, his parents created a scholarship in tribute to their son, which is awarded to graduates who aim to enter the math and science fields. Xilinx also honors Freeman each year with an annual award to an employee for technical innovation.

Freeman was inducted posthumously into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

“I have my cell phone and computer, and none of it runs without computer chips,” said Senator John Demoose. “To think that a guy from this school and this beautiful little town here in the Upper Peninsula came up with the technology that ultimately made this happen, that is a big deal. I think that this is something that the whole town and the Upper Peninsula should be proud of.”

“I want to assure everyone, that it does not stop with a plaque and program tonight,” said ECS Board of Education President Daryl Schroeder. “We will be looking for other distinguished alumni and creating a teaching day each school year to learn about the contributions of these individuals. We want our kids to be proud of our school, their community, their parents, and themselves.”