Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Ivan Sutherland was born in 1938 in Hastings, Nebraska. The child of a civil
engineer father, he found it very exciting to discover how things worked. He
knew early on that he wanted to be an engineer, and he learned how to program
a computer while he was in high school. At the time, that was a very rare skill,
especially among high school students.
This was the beginning of a distinguished career in computers, graphics, and
integrated circuit design for Sutherland. He went to Carnegie Institute of Technology
(now Carnegie Mellon University) on
a full scholarship, and earned his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1959. Then,
he went to the California Institute of Technology
where he earned an M.S., and to the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology to work on his Ph.D.
Working under computing pioneer Claude
Shannon at MIT, Sutherland created a computer program called Sketchpad,
which made it possible to create graphic images directly on a display screen
by using a hand-held object such as a lightpen. It was the first program that
allowed the creation of graphic images directly on a display screen rather than
by entering codes and formulas into the computer through a keyboard. Sketchpad
provided the foundation for what would become the Graphical User Interface,
which is ubiquitous today, having brought to large numbers of discretionary
uses the power and utility of the desktop computer.
When Sutherland got out of graduate school in 1963, he was inducted into the
Army as First Lieutenant and assigned to the National
Security Agency as an electrical engineer. At the time, much of the nation's
computing power was concentrated in the military, which measured its computing
power "by the acre." In 1964, he was transferred to the Defense
Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) to run
its Information Processing Techniques office. By then he was just 26 years old.
For the next two years, Sutherland commissioned and managed a variety of contractors
in research projects devoted to furthering the field of computer science, including
timesharing and artificial intelligence. He stayed with DARPA until 1966 when
he was appointed associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard
University. He accepted a professorial position at the University
of Utah in 1968, and after meeting and working with Dave Evans, founder
of the computer science department there, the two formed a consulting company
- Evans and Sutherland - in 1968 in Salt Lake
City. They collaborated on a number of computer graphics-related projects, including
computer games, which was known as one of the University of Utah's strongholds.
Today the company ships $150 million of product per year, is a major developer
of computer imaging systems for visualization, and supplies a great deal of
visual simulation equipment used for pilot training.
From 1976 to 1980, Sutherland worked for the RAND
Corporation, and he also led the department of computer science at the California
Institute of Technology. It was there that he began working with
Professor Carver Mead on integrated circuit design, making it an official
field of academic study. By learning to teach courses in integrated circuit
design, they paved the way for colleges to produce a new generation of IC engineers.
From 1980 to 1991 he co-founded and was vice president and technical director
of Sutherland, Sproull and Associates. In 1990, Sun bought the company for its
patent base and its key people. This acquisition became the nucleus of Sun
Today [Dec., 2001], Dr. Sutherland is Vice President and Fellow at Sun Microsystems.
Dr. Sutherland has written over 49 publications. He also holds 12 patents. Over
the years, he has won a number of awards for his work, including the Smithsonian
Computer World Award in 1996 and the First Zworykin Award from the National
Academy of Engineering in 1972. He is a member of the National
Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute
of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and is a Fellow with the Association
for Computing Machinery.