SIAM News Blog

SIAM Adopts the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software

By Jorge Moré

SIAM—as a community with a deep interest in scientific computing—has taken a major step toward recognizing numerical software’s key role in sophisticated computing environments by adopting the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software, which recognizes innovative software in scientific computing. Since 1991, the prize has been awarded by Argonne National Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, and the Numerical Algorithms Group every four years at the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM). While this arrangement worked well for over a decade, the relative exposure of the Wilkinson Prize has decreased since the introduction of the ICIAM Prizes in 2003. Moreover, scientific computing has not played a prominent role at ICIAM.

Establishing a New SIAM Prize

The Board of Trustees for the Wilkinson Prize approached SIAM to gauge interest in having the prize become a SIAM Prize. The first step was to submit a proposal to the SIAM Major Awards committee with a proposed set of guidelines and endowment fund.

Daniel Szyld (SIAM Vice-President at Large) proved to be a skillful negotiator as he guided the approval process. After several discussions and exchanges, the Major Awards committee proposed that the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software be given at the SIAM Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) conference every four years, with the first prize in 2019. The CSE conference is an ideal venue since the prize recognizes innovative developments in scientific computing software, a major focus of the conference. A new and highly desirable feature was that the winners of the prize present an invited talk.

The next step in the approval process was the SIAM Executive Council. The Council noted that the prize requirement that winners be at most 40 years old (intended to encourage early career researchers) did not take into account researchers who started late in their careers or took time off for personal reasons. After considerable discussion, eligibility was revised to require that winners must have received their highest degree during the previous 12 years, since there is no clear definition of an early career researcher. The final decision was made easier after it was noted that past winners satisfied this requirement with at least one year to spare.

Innovative Software in Scientific Computing

Winners of the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software have been innovative software libraries that make complex algorithms usable by computational scientists, and visionary projects that introduce new ideas at the forefront of scientific computing.

The 2015 Prize was awarded to Patrick Farrell (University of Oxford), Simon Funke (Simula Research Laboratory), David Ham (Imperial College London), and Marie Rognes (Simula Research Laboratory) for the development of dolfin-adjoint, a software library which automatically derives and solves adjoint and tangent linear equations from high-level mathematical specifications of finite element discretizations of partial differential equations.

2015 Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software recipients (from left to right) Patrick Farrell, Simon Funke, David Ham, and Marie Rognes. Photo credit: Marie Rognes.

The need for adjoints of partial differential equations pervades science and engineering. Adjoints enable the study of the sensitivity and stability of physical systems, and the optimization of designs subject to constraints. By adding a few lines of code to a FEniCS model, dolfin-adjoint users can compute tangent linear and adjoint solutions, gradients, and Hessian-vector products, and use these derivatives in combination with optimization algorithms to determine the optimal design of a model. Areas of application of dolfin-adjoint include oceanography, mantle convection, cardiac electrophysiology, glaciology, phase separation, acoustics, electromagnetics, and fluid mechanics. Visit for more information, including examples, tutorials, and references to publications. Full details of the prize are available on the SIAM website.

The Board of Trustees is grateful to Argonne National Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, and the Numerical Algorithms Group for funding the SIAM endowment for the Wilkinson Prize as well as for supporting the prize over the last 20 years by providing time and effort to the evaluation process. The Board is also grateful to the external reviewers who provided insightful comments on entries. Jorge Moré (Argonne National Laboratory) and Maurice Cox (National Physical Laboratory) were members of the Board since the first prize was awarded in 1991, while Brian Ford was the initial member of the board from the Numerical Algorithms Group, with Sven Hammarling and Mike Dewar joining the board in later years.

Jorge Moré (Argonne National Laboratory) has been a member of the Wilkinson Prize Board of Trustees since the first prize was awarded in 1991.

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