Alan George is a world-renowned computer scientist whose research in the area of scientific computing has been profoundly influential in methods for solving the immensely large computational problems that arise in almost every branch of science, engineering, economics, medicine, and many others. Additionally, he held numerous senior leadership positions at the University of Waterloo and was active in the governance of other academic and research institutions.
First, a brief sketch of Alan George’s education and administrative service: He attended the University of Alberta, where he received Bachelor and Master’s degrees in 1964 and 1966. After serving as an instructor at the University of Alberta for a year, he was admitted to Stanford University, where he received a PhD in Computer Science in 1971. After graduation, he joined the Computer Science Department at the University of Waterloo, and subsequently served as Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics from 1980 to 1986. Following two years as Distinguished Scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alan returned to Waterloo as Vice-President, Academic & Provost, completing a five-year term on June 30, 1993. He again served as Dean of Mathematics from July 1998 until December 2000, when he became interim Vice-President, Academic&Provost, resuming the deanship in August 2001, and completing his term June 30, 2005. He served as Associate Provost, Information Systems & Technology (CIO) from July 2003 through June 2012, and concurrently served as interim Vice-President, University Research from January 1, 2006 until June 30, 2007 and as interim Dean of Graduate Studies from October 2007 until June 30, 2009. He retired as Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 2012. The fact that he held so many and varied administrative positions over more than 30 years is compelling testament to his effective leadership.
Alan George research focused mainly on the many and varied aspects of solving large sparse systems of linear equations.Whether the problem is the design of an airliner or some other large machine or structure, weather forecasting, modelling ocean currents, or any number of other problems, solving it inevitably involves solving very large sparse systems of equations requiring a gigantic amount of computation. Problems involving several million equations is common. Alan George’s research has led to huge reductions in the cost of solving these problems and has revolutionized the field of sparse matrix computation. For example, if n is the number of equations, one of his many discoveries was to show how to reduce the cost of solving many of these problems by a factor of √n. (If n is several million that is a big saving!) His development, along with his students, of the software package SPARSPAK made his research, and that of others, accessible to scientists and engineers, allowing them to solve important problems that were previously considered intractable. His books are widely used in the numerical linear algebra community.
Alan’s research contributions have been recognized through numerous awards and honours. In 1982 he was awarded the George E. Forsythe Memorial Prize for Leadership in Numerical Mathematics by the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Fellow of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (1980), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1992), a Fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (1993), and a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (2009). The Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society awarded him its annual research prize in 2008. He received a Governor General’s Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 1992.