History of Numerical Analysis


Oral Histories





John R. Rice

Oral History (pdf)                                                                     

Interviewer: Thomas Haigh

In this interview, John Rice, the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University, discusses his professional life and academic career. Rice studied at Oklahoma State University, before gaining a Ph.D. from Caltech in Mathematics. He interned at North American Aviation working on a computer guided missile project. After a post doctoral fellowship at the National Bureau of Standards, he worked for four years in the mathematics department at General Motors, part of its research division. In 1964 he joined the faculty at Purdue, at first serving jointly between the computer science and mathematics departments. Rice served for many years as department chair. The interview focuses particularly on his involvement in the field of mathematical software. Rice convened a series of Mathematical Software meetings during the 1970s, which are widely seen as crucial events in the emergence of a research community in this area. He was active in ACM SIGNUM, and was the driving force behind the creation of ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software, a central vehicle for the exchange of code and ideas in this field. He created the ELLPACK family of systems for elliptical problems. ELLPACK was used widely during the 1980s and allowed users to make high level definitions of their problems in a specialized language. It also served as an innovative framework for testing new mathematical algorithms and systematically evaluating their performance. This led him to promote the idea of “problem solving environments” for scientific software. Rice discusses other aspects of his career, including recent work on gas turbine simulation, and identifies some of his key research papers and books. He is the author of numerous edited volumes, of several books on the use of ELLPACK, and of two distinct series of introductory computing textbooks.

Key words: mathematical software, nonlinear approximation, SHARE Library, SIAM,  ACM SIGNUM, ACM Transactions on Software, IFIP Working Group 2.5, ELLPACK, elliptical partial differential equations, NASTRAN, MATLAB, IMSL, NAG, problem solving environments

Funding Agency:  National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research

Time frame: 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's

People: Melba Nead, Arthur Erdelyi, John Todd, Philip Davis, Henry Garabedian, Carl de Boor, Hirondo Kuki, Lloyd Fosdick, Joseph Traub, Tom Hull, James Ortega, David Young, Martin Schultz, Roland Sweet, Allan George

Location: Oklahoma State University, California Institute of Technology, North American Aviation- Downey, National Bureau of Standards, General Motors, Argonne National Laboratory, Purdue University, ICASE

Citation: John R. Rice Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 23 and 24 March, 2004, Lafayette, Indiana. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA

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