Happy Birthday, John Gilbert

I have just returned from a one-day workshop at U. C. Santa Barbara honoring John Gilbert on his 70th birthday and his official retirement after 20 years on the UCSB faculty.


New Mexico

I have known John since he was a teenager.

In the late 1960's, John's father, Ed Gilbert, together with fellow mathematicians Don Morrison and Sto Bell, left their jobs at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque and established the Computer Science Department at the University of New Mexico. Ed was especially interested in undergraduate education and led the department to early adoption of Pascal and Unix in the curriculum.

In 1972, my wife at the time, Nancy Martin, and I were seeking a university where we could both have faculty positions. UNM offered me a job in the Math Department and Nancy one in Computer Science. I stayed at UNM for 13 years, eventually succeeding Morrison as Chairman of Computer Science.

When I first met the Gilbert family in '72, both John and his younger brother Erik were undergrad students at UNM. A year later, both brothers were admitted to grad school in Computer Science at Stanford. After getting their Ph.D.'s in CS at Stanford, Erik went on to cofound a software company that produced a dialect of Lisp and John joined the Computer Science Department at Cornell.

Xerox PARC

After several years at Cornell, John returned to California and the famous Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

Sometime around Christmas in 1988, Ian Duff, the British authority on sparse matrices, wanted to go skiing in the Sierras. Iain arranged with Gene Golub to give a talk at Stanford. I was living in Menlo Park at the time and went to the talk. So did John Gilbert and Rob Schreiber, from Hewlett Packard Research in Palo Alto.

After the talk, everybody went for coffee at Tresidder, Stanford's student union. During the ensuing discussion, John, Rob and I decided it was time to have sparse matrices in MATLAB. The first new data structure in MATLAB and its description resulted. See the links at SIAM and MathWorks.


Our collaboration on sparse matrices has led to an enduring friendship. Every year, at SCxx, the High Performance Computing conference in November, the three of us and Jack Dongarra get together. Here we are with Sven Hammarling from NAG, at SC17 in Denver.


After a dozen years at PARC, John returned to academic life at the University of California near Santa Barbara. Last Saturday, Aydin Buluc and Daniel Lokshtanov, two of John's UCSB Ph. D. students, organized the JRG70 workshop. Here is a link to the Web page, including the list of talks presented. link. It was the first time since Tresidder that Iain, John, Rob and I have all been together.

Here is a portrait of the JRG70 participants. As usual, John is being modest; he's in the back row, in a burgundy sweater.

Published with MATLAB® R2023a

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