Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Chapter 14: Simulation, Graphics and Other Applications

Ivan Sutherland

Ivan Sutherland has credentials in academia, industrial research, and in business. On his Web page Sutherland lists his profession as Engineer, Entrepreneur, Capitalist, Professor. He has won the ACM's prestigious Turing Award, the Smithsonian Computer World Award, the First Zworykin Award from the National Academy of Engineering, and the Price Waterhouse Information Technology Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Sutherland received a BS from Carnegie Institute of Technology, an MS from the California Institute of Technology, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His PhD thesis, "Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communications System," pioneered the use of the lightpen to create graphic images directly on a display screen. The graphic patterns could be stored in memory and later retrieved and manipulated just like any other data. Sketchpad was the first GUI (Graphical User Interface) long before the term was invented, and opened up the field of computer-aided design (CAD).

The U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Agency (NSA) spearheaded computing research in the early 1960s. When Sutherland graduated, he was inducted into the Army and assigned to NSA. In 1964 he was transferred to the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) where he commissioned and managed computer science research projects as director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office.

After his stint with the military, Sutherland went to Harvard as an associate professor. Sketchpad, which allowed people to interact with the computer in terms of images, was the logical predecessor to his work in virtual reality. His goal was the "ultimate display," which would include a full-color, stereoscopic display that filled the user's entire field of vision. Turning the theory into practice was more difficult than first imagined because of the weight of the head-mounted display (HMD). In fact, the first implementation was mounted on the wall or ceiling rather than the head, earning it the nickname "Sword of Damocles."

In 1968, Sutherland moved to the University of Utah where he continued his research into HMD systems. Sutherland and David Evans, another faculty member at Utah, founded Evans & Sutherland, a company specializing in hardware and software for visual systems for simulation, training, and virtual reality applications. In 1975 Sutherland returned to the California Institute of Technology as chairman of the Computer Sciences Department, where he helped to introduce circuit design into the curriculum.

Sutherland left Caltech in 1980 and established Sutherland, Sproull, and Associates, a consulting and venture capital firm. He now holds eight patents in computer graphics and hardware and continues his research into hardware technology. He is currently Vice President and Sun Fellow at Sun Microsystems. Surtherland was awarded the Turing Award in 1988. The citation reads:
   For his pioneering and visionary contributions to
   computer graphics, starting with Sketchpad, and
   continuing after. Sketchpad, though written twentyfive
   years ago, introduced many techniques still
   important today. These include a display file for
   screen refresh, a recursively traversed hierarchical
   structure for modeling graphical objects, recursive
   methods for geometric transformations, and an
   object oriented programming style. Later innovations
   include a "Lorgnette" for viewing stereo or
   colored images, and elegant algorithms for registering
   digitized views, clipping polygons, and
   representing surfaces with hidden lines.

Despite all the honors Sutherland has received, he once cited his proudest accomplishment as his four grandchildren.

Additional Links

A scholar and pioneer, Ivan Sutherland has a rich history which is described in this overview of his accomplishments.

Visit the Ivan Sutherland web site
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