Ukrainian who enabled computer revolution awarded Ukraine’s highest honor in New York

Ukrainian ambassador to the USA Volodymyr Yelchenko (right) awards Dr. Lyubomyr Romankiw (left) the Order of Yaroslav the Wise in the Ukrainian Consulate of New York on 22 March 2021. Photo: Embassy of Ukraine to the USA 

Science and Innovation

Lyubomyr Romankiw, a US citizen of Ukrainian origin dubbed “the Ukrainian Elon Musk” by Ukrainian media, was awarded the order of Yaroslav the Wise. In his lifetime, Dr. Romankiw made 180 scientific discoveries, 67 of which he patented.

Almost 40 years ago, he developed a revolutionary technology and, in fact, ushered in the era of personal computers: without his invention, Apple could not exist.

He invented a technique that produced the first practical and manufacturable thin film magnetic head, which increased the density of data stored on magnetic disks and dramatically reduced the cost of data storage. This led to the emergence of hard drives and personal computers, opening the gates to the computer revolution. In particular, Romankiw’s technology was used to assemble the first computer at Apple.

Speaking to Voice of America, Dr. Romankiw said that then he did not fully understand how important his invention would be. He had no idea that the whole world would use the technology.

“Apple was started in the way that Steve Wozniak bought these drives from us and built the first computer in his garage, a personal computer. Then Jobs, who in fact did not know much about technology, became interested in this. But he was a good salesman, and that’s when he started building Apple.”

Dr. Romankiw received the Order of Yaroslav the Wise at the Ukrainian consulate in New York this Monday.  This Ukrainian state award for outstanding services to Ukraine in the field of strengthening Ukraine’s international prestige, including the development of science is the highest honor given to foreigners.

The researcher, who turns 90 this year, is a leading IBM scientist whose name has been inscribed on the U.S. National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. To date only two Ukrainians have had that honor: apart from Romankiw, Igor Sikorsky, credited with inventing the modern helicopter, has been bestowed that honor.

Dr. Lubomyr Romankiw grew up in Western Ukraine and fled from the Soviets to Canada. He earned his B.S. from the University of Alberta and both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Metallurgy and Materials from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In addition to being named an IBM Fellow, he is a member of the IBM Academy of Technology, an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow, and an Electrochemical Society Fellow. Dr. Romankiw received the 1993 Society of Chemical Industry Perkin Medal, the 1994 IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Technical Field Award, and the 1994 Electrochemical Society Vittorio de Nora Award. He also received the Inventor of the Year Award from the Eastern New York Intellectual Property Law Association (2000) and the Inventor of the Year Award from the New York Intellectual Property Law Association (2001).

“When you boot up your PC, seven of my patents are at play. When you first push the key and an image flashes on the screen, it is also my invention – magnetic heads that make a recording on the disk. The heads I designed are thinner than a human hair. When you press letters, it is also my work,” he told about his work of a lifetime to Den.

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