Rice mourns the loss of Ken Kennedy

first_imgShareCONTACT: Jade BoydPHONE: 713-348-6778E-MAIL: [email protected] computing pioneer Ken Kennedy dead at 61Ken Kennedy, the founder of Rice University’s nationally ranked computer science program and one of the world’s foremost experts on high-performance computing, died Feb. 7 at a Houston hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.“Rice has lost one of its great intellectual leaders and a great human being,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Ken Kennedy early on realized the power of computers to address real problems that confront people and the Earth. His most recent contributions included using bioanalysis to help work on health issues like cancer. Ken leaves a great legacy for Rice and for mankind. He will be missed.”In a 36-year career, Kennedy, a member of the elite National Academy of Engineering, helped Rice stake a claim as one of the nation’s leading academic centers for computational research and education. He founded Rice’s Department of Computer Science in 1984, its cross-disciplinary Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITI) in 1986, its Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC) in 1989, and its Center for High Performance Software Research (HiPerSoft) in 2000.“Ken was incredibly dedicated to Rice and dedicated his career to developing computing research at Rice,” said CITI Director Moshe Vardi. “If Rice is famous today for its computing research, it is due to Ken Kennedy.”The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Rice’s computer engineering program No. 2 in the nation based on a scholarly productivity analysis by researchers at the State University of New York.“Ken was a beloved and incredibly valuable faculty member in every dimension – mentoring, strategic vision, education and research,” said Sallie Keller-McNulty, dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. “He was a pillar for the scholarly community of computational sciences and engineering. This is a profound global loss, the true magnitude of which won’t be fully realized for some time.”Kennedy’s longtime friend, Rice alumus John Doerr, said, “This great man and our caring friend, Ken Kennedy, leaves a legacy of love – first for family, with plenty more for friends, colleagues and Rice. Ken inspired all of us with his passion for people and innovation, and the magic he created by combining the two.”Though dedicated to Rice, Kennedy earned a worldwide reputation for leadership. In 1997, he was tapped to co-chair the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), a congressionally mandated committee charged with advising the president, Congress and other federal agencies on advanced information technology. The panel’s 1999 report urged U.S. leaders to increase spending for computing research by more than $1 billion, and it served as a catalyst for increased IT research support from numerous federal agencies.“At Rice I had experienced, firsthand, Ken’s legendary vision, organization and personal skills, and his dogged determination, all of which enabled him to do what other people could not,” said Rice physicist Neal Lane, who, during Kennedy’s PITAC tenure, served first as National Science Foundation (NSF) director and later as White House science adviser. “In Washington, I became aware of the enormous respect that his colleagues around the world and everyone he worked with had for his abilities, his professional accomplishments and his humanity.”Kennedy’s connection to Rice ran deep and began when he was an undergraduate mathematics major. “Like most people who have been to Rice, I have developed a strong attachment for it,” he said in a 1986 interview. “My father was in the military, and we moved 16 times by the time I graduated from high school. Rice was the first place at which I had spent more than three years.”Kennedy graduated summa cum laude in 1967 and returned just four years later after earning one of the first doctorates in computer science awarded by New York University.Kennedy served on countless academic and administrative panels at Rice. He helped raise $45 million for computational engineering in Rice’s last major fundraising campaign, and he led the effort to build Anne and Charles Duncan Hall, a 113,000-square-foot building that became home to Rice’s computational programs in 1996.But Kennedy will perhaps be best remembered at Rice for his love of students and teaching. He was a Ph.D. adviser to 38 students, and he mentored countless others. He also continued to teach undergraduate courses long after he became famous. He received Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching in 1979 – an award that’s based on the votes of recent graduates – and he rolled up his sleeves and worked side-by-side with students on several memorable projects.“Ken led a small group of colleagues and graduate students in pulling the coaxial cables for the first local area network on campus,” recalled Keith Cooper, chair of Rice’s Department of Computer Science and one of Kennedy’s former Ph.D. students. “The cable ran from Abercrombie (Labs) to Herman Brown (Hall) and was one of the first Ethernet installations in the city, and Ken conducted an interview with the Thresher in the steam tunnels on the day we pulled the cable.”Cooper said Kennedy maintained steadfast contact with his students throughout his battle with cancer. “He was actively communicating with them late last week, and his conversations with me this week were all focused on his current students,” Cooper said.In 1988, Kennedy led a group of computer scientists from seven leading research institutions in a proposal to establish the NSF-funded CRPC, one of the first NSF Science and Technology Centers. CRPC later became HiPerSoft, which Kennedy directed from its inception. HiPerSoft is the Rice administrative home for several multi-institution projects, including the Virtual Grid Application Development Software (GrADS) Project, an NSF-sponsored effort involving seven universities, and the Los Alamos Computer Science Institute (LACSI), a consortium of five universities and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.“Ken’s ability to effectively direct national centers of very strong and confident researchers was almost unique,” said friend and colleague Sidney Burrus, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering. “He could get some very complicated folks to collaborate on truly important problems in an amazing way. The high performance computing power in this country is largely a product of that ability.”Kennedy was promoted to Rice’s highest academic rank, University Professor, in 2002. At the time of his death, he held joint appointments as the John and Ann Doerr Professor in Computational Engineering in Computer Science and as a professor in electrical and computer engineering.“It is fair to say that no one in the last 35 years has had as much influence on the field of programming-language implementation as Ken, both through his own research and through the research of his numerous students,” Vardi said.In 2003, the Association of Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (ACM SIGPLAN) compiled a selection of the 50 most influential papers from 1979 to 1999. Few researchers had more than one. Kennedy had five, and three of his former students, including Cooper and Rice’s Linda Torczon, had two or more.“Ken Kennedy and the group he built at Rice did ground-breaking work on program language implementation and optimization techniques,” said ACM President Stuart Feldman, vice president of computer science at IBM Research. “He applied this to important problems, and his work was used by all the leading computer companies. He also gave his time selflessly to the field and the nation, serving on government advisory groups, organizing conferences and building a great computer science department. We will miss his insight and presence enormously. His influence will live on.”Kennedy’s contributions to the field were recognized by his peers with the 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award from ACM SIGPLAN. Though it was one of dozens of honors he received throughout his career, Cooper said Kennedy was particularly proud of the ACM recognition and of his 1990 selection to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).“The ACM recognition was particularly significant to him because it was an award from the community where he got his start,” Cooper said. “Being selected to the NAE was a great national honor; he was touched to be recognized as an engineer, both because his father was an engineer and because computer science is not a traditional engineering discipline.”Kennedy also dedicated more than two decades of his research career to developing high-level programming tools for parallel and distributed computer systems. His contributions helped make supercomputers more accessible to scientists and engineers.“Ken envisioned what the development of computation could represent in individual human lives, the societal changes that broad access to information could bring about, the social implications of Internet use, and how vital it was for the computing community itself to be inclusive,” said Rice mathematician Richard Tapia, a longtime Rice colleague who worked closely with Kennedy on programs to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the computational sciences.“Too often, diversity is included in programs and projects as an add-on, but my own experience is that real change happens when there is a fundamental and systematic openness to diverse perspectives, contributors, and leadership,” said Francine Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, who worked with Kennedy on the GrADS Project. “Ken embodied this attitude. It was evident to anyone who worked with him, and it was important precisely because he was in the world’s top-most tier of computer science researchers. He was an inspiration in all ways, and we will really miss him.”Kennedy was known the world over for his expertise in programming language implementation and high-performance computing – two disciplines he’d first been exposed to during graduate studies at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kennedy was one of the first graduate students in the new field of computer science and he credited his Ph.D. adviser, Jack Schwartz, with opening his eyes to the possibilities of high-performance computing.Kennedy authored more than 200 technical articles and two books. He was a fellow of the ACM, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In recognition of his achievements in compilation for high-performance computer systems, he was given the 1995 W.W. McDowell Award, the highest research award of the IEEE Computer Society. His Rice honors include the Hugh Scott Cameron Award for Service to Rice, which he won as an undergraduate in 1967. As a faculty member, Kennedy was a long-standing associate of Jones College and was recognized with the college’s service award in 1976. He also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Association of Rice Alumni in 2002.Kennedy is survived by his wife, Carol Quillen, Rice’s vice provost for academic affairs; stepdaughter, Caitlin; father, retired Army Brig. Gen. Kenneth Kennedy Sr.; and sister, Susan Kennedy.“Ken was a special person in many dimensions,” said Kathleen Matthews, dean of Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a longtime friend of Kennedy’s. But beyond his stellar career, his national service, his intellect and his love of teaching, Matthews said those who knew Kennedy best will most-remember his humanity. “He had a sense of humor that rang deeply in his laughter and a gentle spirit that reached out to his friends and colleagues. His strong and gracious presence will be missed in uncountable ways.”Amemorial service will take place at First Presbyterian Church, 5300Main Street, Houston, on Thursday, February 15 at 3 p.m. In lieu offlowers, the family requests gifts be made to Rice University, KenKennedy Memorial Fund. Checks may be mailed to Rice University MS-81,P.O. Box 1892, Houston, Texas, 77251-1892. AddThislast_img read more