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Obituaries

By Robert Barnhill

Gerald Farin, beloved mentor and renowned researcher in geometric modelling, passed away on January 14, 2016, at age 62. He was a young person in the 1970s when entering the field of Computer Aided Geometric Design (CAGD), which had been christened in 1974, meaning that he and the field developed simultaneously. His book, Curves and Surfaces for Computer Aided Geometric Design—published in five editions—helped establish the subject.

Gerald was born in Angermünde, Germany, on March 20, 1953. His family escaped East Germany just before the Berlin Wall was constructed. With half of the family staying in the East and half moving to the West, Gerald had an exciting family history.

He first encountered applied mathematics while working towards his Ph.D. at the Technical University Braunschweig under the guidance of Professor Wolfgang Böhm, who assigned Gerald to read and report on a paper by Paul de Casteljau, a mathematician with the French automaker Citroën. After earning his degree, Gerald relocated to where the action was in applied mathematics and the new field of computer graphics: the University of Utah. While in Utah in 1978, he and I began a 40-year friendship. We spent a year in the late 1970s in England with Dr. John Gregory, another early pioneer in CAGD. During both this time and a prior year in Utah, Gerald conducted his very important breakthrough research on developing Bernstein-Bezier polynomial patches over arbitrarily-shaped triangles. Smooth sets of triangular patches are essential for interpolation and approximation of real-world data in CAGD and elsewhere, such as with the finite element method for engineering structures.

I’d like to share a little story from that year in England. Gerald bought an ancient Saab automobile, distinguished by the fact that it did not work much of the time. Thus, it was no accident that he went from England back to Germany to work for Mercedes-Benz. He wanted a car that ran!

In 1984, Böhm and I created a journal, Computed Aided Geometric Design, published by North-Holland. Gerald became what Böhm called the “undercover editor-in-chief” because he did much of the editorial work. The inaugural issue contains a defining article of CAGD by Gerald, Böhm, and Jurgen Kahmann.1

Also in 1984, Gerald met Dianne Hansford, who became his wife in 1992. Dianne was in the same field as Gerald, meaning the two worked and played together. The latter included gourmet cooking, fine wine, running, and traveling.

Gerald played a key role in several CAGD research meetings from 1982 to 1999 at the Oberwolfach Research Institute for Mathematics in Germany. In 1986, he moved with the Mathematics CAGD Group from Utah to Arizona State University (ASU), where he was based for the next 29 years. Soon after, he helped form the SIAM Activity Group in Geometric Design (SIAG/GD), whose first three meetings were held in Tempe, Arizona (near ASU) starting in 1987. Gerald was secretary of SIAG/GD from 1993-1998 and chair from 2002 to 2005. He had been a member of SIAM since 1987.

Gerald also collaborated with Professor Hans Hagen of the University of Kaiserslautern to establish meetings at the Dagstuhl Computer Science Center in Germany. The meetings began in 1991 and continue to the present day.

In 1994, Gerald officially became the co-editor-in-chief of the CAGD journal, a post that he held for 20 years. Hartmut Prautzsch, his co-editor during that time, says, “Gerald with his books and long service for the journal has been a personification of the field of CAGD. He had a unique ability to present things simply with a distinct sense of aesthetics, a clear opinion and a certain humor. His e-mails were beautifully minimalistic and to the point.”

Gerald loved being a professor. He fully embraced every aspect of this position, with his quality accomplishments in research,  student mentoring, and editorial work with journals and meetings.

He is probably the most published person in CAGD and related fields; his record is very impressive with at least 30 books, 100 papers, and many research grants to his name. Several of the books, and many other professional publications, are joint work with his wife Dianne.

Gerald’s emphasis on quality showed in his communications, both written and spoken, as well as in his work with students. He supervised some 60 student theses and dissertations, and advised and taught many additional students worldwide. His ability to bring high-level mathematics to a practical level for non-mathematicians was unparalleled. A major example is the ASU Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM), for which Gerald served as co-director. The multidisciplinary consortium includes people from mathematics, computer science, engineering, social science, fine arts, medicine, and other fields.

Gerald was always an exceedingly gracious person. From visiting his parents, Erich and Christel, in Lingen, Germany, his inheritance in grace as well as his inheritance that extended to his perfect bilingual ability in two continents is apparent. 

Gerald was a tremendous friend and colleague. He will be missed, but those who knew him and his work will be inspired to even greater achievements. All who knew him salute his many accomplishments, personal and professional, during a life of unparalleled quality.

Web links to the ASU obituary, video, slide show, and scholarship fund are all available here

A minisymposium in Gerald’s honor will take place at SIAM’s 2017 Conference on Industrial and Applied Geometry, which will be held in conjunction with the SIAM Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, July 10-14, 2017.

 

1 Böhm, W., Farin, G., & Kahmann, J. (1984). A survey of curve and surface methods. Computer Aided Geometric Design, 1(1), 1-60.

Robert Barnhill is an emeritus professor of computer science at Arizona State University and an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Kansas. He is currently Vice President for Science Policy & Strategic Initiatives of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos & Native Americans in Science. Barnhill is also one of the founders of Computer Aided Geometric Design, having coined the term along with Rich Riesenfeld.

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