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Icons of Progress

The First Corporate Pure Science Research Laboratory

The formidable accomplishments of IBM Research over the past seven decades can be traced back to the vision of Thomas J. Watson Sr. and the early efforts of a dedicated group of talented scientists. Today, the more than 3000 IBM researchers worldwide continue to create transformative innovations with their expertise, technical skill and willingness to take risk. Meet team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress.

  • Wallace J. Eckert 

    Wallace J. Eckert
    Wallace Eckert was the first director of the Watson Research Lab at Columbia University.

    Wallace Eckert earned his PhD in astronomy from Yale University in 1931 and devoted his career to studying the motion of the moon. But through his association with IBM and IBM Research he also helped transform how scientists used computers and how corporations worked with scientists. Eckert was one of the first researchers to use computing machines to solve scientific problems in the 1930s. According to colleague Herb Grosch, “If he had wanted to abandon astronomy and become a computer man, I'm sure he would have been a much better known figure. His contributions were enormous but they were disguised by the fact that he really did them in order to do better astronomy." A Columbia astronomy professor and the first scientist with a PhD to be hired by IBM, Eckert was recruited by Watson to serve as director of what would become the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University. He played a key role in recruiting leading scientists and formulating the kind of policies, procedures and lab culture that would attract them to the Watson Lab.

  • Gardiner Tucker 

    Gardiner Tucker
    Gardiner Tucker joined the Watson Lab in 1952 and later became a director of research at IBM.

    After earning his PhD in physics from Columbia University, Gardiner Tucker was recruited by Wallace Eckert to stay on at Columbia as an IBM Watson Lab researcher to help advance IBM’s research capabilities in solid state physics. Tucker later moved into research management, serving as manager of research at San Jose, California, before becoming director of research at IBM in 1963. In 1967, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to serve as deputy director of defense research and engineering in the US Department of Defense, and was named an assistant secretary of defense in 1969.

  • John E. Kelly III

    John E. Kelly III
    John E. Kelly III directs the worldwide operations of IBM Research.

    John E. Kelly III earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Union College in New York in 1976. Continuing his studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, he received a master’s degree in physics in 1978 and a doctorate in materials science in 1980. Kelly joined IBM the same year to work on advanced semiconductor technologies, later shaping IBM’s technical and innovation strategies as senior vice president of technology and intellectual property. As director of IBM Research since 2007, Kelly oversees approximately 3000 technical employees at nine laboratories in seven countries around the world. His honors include numerous technical and business leadership awards—including the semiconductor industry’s highest honor, the Robert E. Noyce Award—and an honorary doctorate of science from The Graduate School at Union College.

  • Herbert Grosch 

    Herb Grosch
    Herb Grosch was the second scientist ever hired by IBM.

    Herb Grosch earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in astronomy from the University of Michigan after emigrating from his native Canada, completing his studies in 1942. He joined the Watson Lab at Columbia in 1945 to do backup calculations for the Manhattan Project, becoming the second scientist ever hired by IBM as Wallace Eckert recruited his lab team. Grosch often quipped that he was also the first IBM employee with facial hair at a time when beards were taboo in the corporate workplace. Grosch left the lab in 1950, and went on to work in computing at both Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and General Electric. He is best known for his discovery in the 1950s of the relationship between speed and cost in computers, formalized in Grosch’s Law and aphorized as “economy is the square root of speed.”