History of Numerical Analysis


Oral Histories





Iain S. Duff

Oral History (pdf)

Interviewer: Thomas Haigh

Iain S. Duff earned a first class degree in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy from the University of Glasgow in 1969. He discusses the mathematical curriculum there, and recounts his early computing experiences as a summer fellow with IBM. Duff won a Carnegie Fellowship for postgraduate work at Oxford, culminating in a D.Phil. conferred in 1972. At Oxford he worked with the numerical analysis group and wrote his thesis on the analysis of sparse systems under the direction of Leslie Fox. In 1972, Duff went to the United States on a Harkness postdoctoral fellowship, spending time at SUNY Stony Brook and Stanford. In 1973,  he became a computing lecturer at Newcastle University, before returning to Harwell as a researcher in 1975. He continued to work on sparse matrix methods, establishing himself as a leading researcher in the area, through pioneering work with John Reid on multifrontal methods, a series of widely read review articles, and an influential book written in collaboration with Reid and Al Erisman. Duff rose within Harwell, becoming leader of its numerical analysis group in 1986. He explores in detail the development and composition of this group, paying particular attention to the Harwell Subroutine Library, a collection of numerical subroutines developed within Harwell from the mid-1960s on and widely distributed to other sites. Duff explains its history, evolution, areas of strength, sources of routines, documentation methods, distribution practices, relationship to the NAG library, and attempts at commercial exploitation. In 1990, Duff led his group from Harwell to the nearby Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, as government cuts and shifts in priorities threatened its future at Harwell. Since 1987 Duff has also led the Parallel Algorithms group at CERFACS in Toulouse, and discusses the origins of CERFACS, the composition and functioning of his group, and its involvement in the MUMPS and PARASOL projects to create parallel multifrontal solvers for sparse systems. Duff worked on various forms of BLAS, including contributions to the Level 3 BLAS specifications  and development of the Sparse BLAS standard.

Key words: mathematical software,  sparse matrices, mulitfrontal methods, Harwell Subroutine Library, NAG library, BLAS, parallel algorithms, MUMPS, PARASOL, test matrices

Funding Agency: Atomic Energy Research Establishment, United Kingdom; Office of Science and Innovation, United Kingdom

Time frame: 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's

People: Leslie Fox, Alan Curtis, Micahel Powell, John Reid,  Alan George, Ralph Willoughby, Fred Gustavson, Gene Golub, Al Erisman, Jack Dongarra, Michael Heroux, Roldan Pozo

Location: University of Glasgow, OxfordUniversity, Newcastle University, AERE Harwell, IBM Yorktown Heights, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, CERFACS, Argonne National Laboratory

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