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Syracuse University Distinguished Professor Per Brinch Hansen remembered as a pioneer in computing
Syracuse University Distinguished Professor Per Brinch Hansen remembered as a pioneer in computingAugust 03, 2007Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
As a young man growing up in Denmark, Per Brinch Hansen dreamed of becoming an engineer like his father, Jorgen Brinch Hansen, a prominent Danish civil engineer and one of the world’s leading experts in soil mechanics. Wanting to make a name for himself in his own right, the younger Brinch Hansen decided to study electrical engineering and the new field of computing. Here, he thought, was an opportunity to make fundamental contributions in a new discipline.
Brinch Hansen graduated from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in 1963 without any programming experience — no books yet existed on programming languages or operating systems. He set out to change that. Through a 40-year career as a systems programmer, computer scientist and professor, Brinch Hansen became known for his pioneering development of operating systems and concurrent programming. Upon being awarded the IEEE Computer Pioneer Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2002, Brinch Hansen was recognized as “one of a handful of computer pioneers who was responsible for advancing both operating systems development and concurrent programming from ad hoc techniques into systematic engineering disciplines.”
Brinch Hansen, Distinguished Professor in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), died July 31 in Syracuse at age 68.
“Dr. Brinch Hansen’s favorite maxim was ‘Programming is the art of writing essays in crystal clear prose and making them execute.’ He certainly delivered it,” says Kishan Mehrotra, professor of computer science in LCS and a colleague of Brinch Hansen. “He was also an excellent teacher with the ability to explain very difficult concepts in a very practical way.”
Following his graduation from DTU, Brinch Hansen joined Regnecentralen in Copenhagen. There, he was responsible for the development of the RC 4000 multiprogramming system, one of the earliest systems based on message communication. In 1970, he began serving as a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University, where he wrote “Operating System Principles” (1973), the first comprehensive textbook on programming. The book was later translated into six languages.
In 1972, Brinch Hansen was named an associate professor of computer science at the California Institute of Technology, where he worked on the development of programming language concepts for parallel computing. He developed Concurrent Pascal, the first parallel programming language built on monitors, and wrote the Solo operating system in the language in 1975.
In 1976, Brinch Hansen became professor and the first chair of the computer science department at the University of Southern California. He was named the first Henry Salvatori Professor of Computer Science at USC in 1982. He held a professorship in computer science at the University of Copenhagen from 1984-86 and returned to the United States in 1987 as a Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at SU.
Brinch Hansen authored 10 books, several of which are considered to be in the top 25 books in computer science. His works include “The Architecture of Concurrent Programs” (1977), the first book on parallel programming; “Studies in Computational Science” (1995); and “The Search for Simplicity” (1996), a collection of his classic papers on parallel programming written over a period of 30 years.
Among numerous recognitions, Brinch Hansen was awarded a Doctor Technices degree in 1978 by DTU, was elected an IEEE fellow in 1985, and received a Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement from SU in 1989. One of Brinch Hansen’s most prestigious honors was the IEEE Computer Pioneer Medal, awarded to him in 2002.
Shiu-Kai Chin, interim dean of LCS, used a textbook of Brinch Hansen’s in his own experience as a student learning to write software for operating systems.
“Per was well known for his work in operating systems and a recognized pioneer and advocate for engineering methods that make software reliable and correct as opposed to large and unpredictable,” Chin says. “We were fortunate to have him as a colleague.”
Brinch Hansen is survived by his wife of 42 years, Milena, and their two children, Mette Hansen and Thomas Hansen; a daughter-in-law, Karmin Hansen; and two granddaughters, Nya and Lena Hansen. A memorial service will be scheduled in Syracuse University?s Hendricks Chapel at a later date.