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Jack J. Dongarra: A Soft Spot for Mathematical Software
Computer Science / Programming

Jack J. Dongarra: A Soft Spot for Mathematical Software

4 min read
US computer scientist Jack Dongarra (1950) has played a key role in taking computers and, in particular, mathematical software into a new era. His work on linear algebra, parallel computing and advanced computer architecture has helped pave the way for high-performance computing.

With a degree in computer science, Jack Dongarra chose to complete a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of New Mexico under the direction of Cleve Moler. This encounter would shape Jack’s career and a life-long passion for mathematical software… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It all began at the Argonne National Laboratory run by the University of Chicago where he did an internship to help develop the numerical algorithm library EISPACK with Cleve. Continuing his research, he later became a senior scientist at the laboratory, before taking on an array of prestigious posts including Distinguished Research Staff Member at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Tennessee.

“The way to think of a supercomputer is as a special-purpose device. Only with these devices can we perform this cutting-edge research.”

Software and beyond

He spent much of his career testing, developing and documenting mathematical software including LINPACK – a software library for numerical linear algebra on digital computers – once again with Cleve Moler. Today, it has become the performance benchmark for scientific computers. By incorporating these libraries into software like multi-paradigm numerical computing environment MATLAB, he has helped a vast number of users solve complex problems. He later contributed to LAPACK, a new library for linear algebra and matrix functions, and then ScaLAPACK for distributed memory systems.

Let’s not forget that he pioneered the distribution of mathematical software via email and helped develop the numeric open-source code for Netlib – a software repository for scientific computing. He also advanced parallel computing to enable numerous calculations to be carried out at the same time.

At the cutting-edge of learning

In 1989, he founded the Innovative Computing Laboratory, the computer science research and development center at the heart of Knoxville campus at the University of Tennessee. The aim? Maintain the university’s edge in advanced scientific and high-performance computing. So far, it seems to be working as they have won 4 RD100 innovation awards.

During his prolific career, he has amassed many prizes and titles, including the first IEEE Medal of Excellence in Scalable Computing in 2008, highlighting the importance of his work.

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