Ivan Sutherland (SHS 1955)

Scientist, Engineer, Computer Scholar

Under Ivan Sutherland’s name in the 1955 Bandersnatch are the following:
“Univac . . .The answer man . . Scientifically yours…” Sutherland was also the President of the Science Club in both his junior and senior years. While still in high school he took on a challenge involving SIMON, a relay-based computer with six words of two bit memory. Before Sutherland, SIMON could only add. After Sutherland, SIMON could divide. At the time, few high school students had written a computer program. Sutherland produced eight pages of paper tape to “teach” SIMON to divide.

Sutherland’s high school accomplishments earned him a full scholarship to Carnegie-Mellon University, where in 1959 he earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. The following year Sutherland attended the California Institute of Technology. His masters in hand, Sutherland returned east to M.I.T. There in the course of getting a Ph.D. he made the first of many massive contributions to computer science. His dissertation was entitled “Sketchpad: A Man-machine Graphical Communications System.”

A brief stint in the army followed, and then Sutherland taught at Harvard University and two years later at the University of Utah. In 1976, he became the head of the Computer Science department at Caltech. His leadership was critical in bringing integrated computer design to the university, paving the way for advances in chip design.

In 1980, Sutherland became Vice-President and Technical Director of Sutherland, Sproull and Associates. Ten years later he was appointed Vice-President and Sun Fellow of Sun Microsystems. Over the years, his supple mind led to vast changes in his field.
Many people consider him the creator of computer graphics. He also introduced ideas such as 3-D computer modeling, visual simulations and virtual reality.

Dr. Sutherland holds 12 patents and has written over 49 publications. One, entitled “Technology and Courage,” was presented as a Distinguished Lecture at Carnegie Mellon in 1982 and is still available today. Among his many awards are the Turing Award, from the Association of Computing Machinery, the Computerworld Smithsonian Award and the John von Neumann Medal.

Many scholars consider the 20th century change in the computer world the most revolutionary event of our times. If that is true, Ivan Sutherland is a critical figure in history.