SIAM News Blog

Obituaries: Joseph F. Traub

By Henryk Wozniakowski

Joseph F. Traub passed away on August 24, 2015, in his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 83 years old. His death was sudden and unexpected. Joe will be missed by his many friends and colleagues.

I knew Joe for 42 years. After I finished my Ph.D. thesis from the University of Warsaw in 1973, Joe invited me to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a visiting assistant professor. Since then, we have collaborated and written many papers and books together. We were close friends and I still find it hard to believe that Joe is no more.

Joseph F. Traub. Photo credit: Columbia University, Computer Science Department.

Joe had a long and distinguished career as a pioneering computer scientist. In 1959, he received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Columbia University. His Ph.D. thesis was based on six months of programming to calculate the ground energy state of a helium atom. Soon after receiving his doctorate, Joe started to work at Bell Labs, where his research focused on zero finding. In 1964, he wrote his first book, Iterative Methods for the Solution of Equations, which was published by Prentice Hall. In 1971, he became chair of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and helped make it one of the strongest computer  science departments  in the world. He founded the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University in 1979, where he was the Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Computer Science until his passing. 

Joe’s main research area was solving continuous problems for which information is partial, priced, and contaminated. Today, this field is called information-based complexity (IBC).  The first research monograph on IBC, entitled Information-Based Complexity, was written by Joe along with Grzegorz Wasilkowski and myself, and published by Academic Press in 1988. Today there are eight books and literally hundreds of papers on IBC. Throughout his career, Joe organized multiple conferences and workshops with IBC as the main research subject. The last of such meetings that Joe helped organize, the Dagstuhl Seminar,  was held in Dagstuhl, Germany last month, sadly without Joe.

In 1985, Joe founded the Journal of Complexity, and continued as the journal’s editor-in-chief for the last three decades. Joe also founded the Computer Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council, serving twice as its chairman.

Joe was the author of over 120 papers, as well as the author or editor of ten monographs. His last few papers were on quantum computing. He received numerous awards and honors.

Joe is survived by his wife Pamela McCorduck and his two daughters from his first marriage, Claudia Traub-Cooper and Hillary Spector.

Joseph F. Traub was a loyal member of SIAM for well over 30 years. An oral history with Traub was conducted by computer historian Thomas Haigh in March of 2004. View it on SIAM’s history project

Henryk Wozniakowski is an emeritus professor of computer science at Columbia University and an emeritus professor of applied mathematics at the University of Warsaw.

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