American mathematician and computer programmer Cleve Barry Moler (1939) set out to help his students with matrixes. Along the way, he created a computer language that now has more than one million users across the world.
With a PhD in mathematics from Stanford, Moler slid into academia taking on teaching roles at various institutions. In the 1970s, he co-wrote two scientific sub-route libraries for numerical computing — LINPACK for linear algebra and EISEPACK for eigenvalues and eigenvectors. As well as four textbooks on numerical methods.
While teaching mathematics at the University of New Mexico, Moler wanted to make these libraries more accessible to students studying linear algebra and numerical analysis — without them needing to write Fortran programs. So he set out to create a computing package for plotting functions and implementing algorithms with no thought to commercializing it or creating a company.
But when electrical engineering professor Jack Little heard about MATLAB, he saw the huge potential for helping engineers and scientists solve technical computing problems faster. Teaming up, the pair created a more general computer language that is now used in an array of applications — often far removed from its origins — from building hearing aids to designing in-vehicle electronics like anti-lock brakes and electronic ignition. MATLAB is also starting to be used in biomedical research.
“I had no idea that MATLAB would be a commercial product and had no intention of starting a company or commercializing it.”
In the 1980s, Moler turned away from academia to deliver his solutions to a wider audience. In 1984, the duo co-founded MathWorks to commercialize the program, completing the offer with Simulink® for simulations and model-based design. For several years, Moler also worked for Intel Hyber and Ardent Computer Corporation, before going full-time at MathWorks in 1989. MATLAB continues to undergo regular makeovers with a number of major revisions including the addition of toolboxes and a graphical user interface.
Given the IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award in 2012, Moler has helped simplify numerical analysis for students, as well as empowering users around the world to resolve complicated computing problems. MATLAB is now used across diverse disciplines and applications, from data analysis to engineering graphics.
Programming a computer the size of a room
Cleve Moler does his first actual programming during extra classes at Caltech — there is no operating system, the computer fills the whole room and only one person at a time can use it.
Moler completes the MATLAB offer with Simulink®, a block diagram environment for Model-Based Design, now the most widely used simulation software for control systems.
President of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Moler becomes president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics — which promotes the use of mathematics in industry — of which he is still a fellow.