Richard Dimick Jenks
Axiom Developer and Computer Algebra Pioneer
Richard D. Jenks was born on November 16, 1937 in Dixon, Illinois, where he
grew up. During his childhood he learned to play the organ and sang in the
church choir thereby developing a life-long passion for music.
He received his PhD in mathematics from the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign in 1966. The title of his dissertation was
``Quadratic Differential Systems for Mathematical Models" and was
written under the supervision of Donald Gilles. After completing his
PhD, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Brookhaven National Laboratory on
Long Island. In 1968 he joined IBM Research where he worked until his
retirement in 2002.
At IBM he was a principal architect of the Scratchpad
system, one of the earliest computer algebra systems(1971).
Dick always believed that natural user interfaces were essential
and developed a user-friendly rule-based system for Scratchpad.
Although this rule-based approach was easy to use, as algorithms
for computer algebra became more complicated, he began to understand
that an abstract data type approach would give sophisticated
algorithm development considerably more leverage. In 1977 he
began the Axiom development (originally called Scratchpad II) with
the design of MODLISP, a merger of Lisp with types (modes). In 1980,
with the help of many others, he completed an initial prototype design
based on categories and domains that were intended to be natural
for mathematically sophisticated users.
During this period many researchers in computer algebra
visited IBM Research in Yorktown Heights and contributed to the development of
the Axiom system. All this activity made the computer algebra
group at IBM one of the leading centers for research
in this area and Dick was always there to organize the visits
and provide a stimulating and pleasant working environment for everyone.
He had a good perspective on the most important research directions
and worked to attract world-renowned experts to visit
and interact with his group. He was an ideal manager for whom to work,
one who always put the project and the needs of the group
members first. It was a joy to work
in such a vibrant and stimulating environment.
After many years of development, a decision was made to rename
Scratchpad II to Axiom and to release it as a product. Dick and
Robert Sutor were the primary authors of the book Axiom: The
Scientific Computation System. In the foreword of the book,
written by David and Gregory Chudnovsky, it is stated
that ``The Scratchpad system took its time to blossom into the beautiful
Axiom product. There is no rival to this powerful environment in its scope
and, most importantly, in its structure and organization.'' Axiom was
recently made available as free software. See
Dick was active in service to the computer algebra community as well.
Here are some highlights. He served as Chair of ACM SIGSAM (1979-81)
and Conference Co-chair (with J. A. van Hulzen) of EUROSAM '84, a
precursor of the ISSAC meetings.
Dick also had a long period of service on the editorial board of the
Journal of Symbolic Computation. At ISSAC '95 in Montreal, Dick was
elected to the initial ISSAC Steering Committee and was elected as the
second Chair of the Committee in 1997.
He, along with David Chudnovsky,
organized the highly successful meetings on Computers and Mathematics
that were held at Stanford in 1986 and MIT in 1989.
Dick had many interests outside of his professional pursuits including
reading, travel, physical fitness, and especially music. Dick was an
accomplished pianist, organist, and vocalist. At one point he was the
organist and choirmaster of the Church of the Holy Communion in
Mahopac, NY. In the 1980s and 1990s, he sang in choral groups under
the direction of Dr. Dennis Keene that performed at Lincoln Center in
New York city.
Especially important to him was his family: his eldest son Doug and his wife
Patricia, his son Daniel and his wife Mercedes, a daughter Susan,
his brother Albert and his wife Barbara, his sister Diane Alabaster and her
husband Harold, his grandchildren Douglas, Valerie, Ryan, and Daniel
Richard, and step-granddaughter Danielle. His longtime companion, Barbara
Gatje, shared his love for music, traveling, Point O'Woods, and life in
On December 30, 2003, Dick Jenks died at the age of 66, after an extended and
courageous battle with multiple system atrophy.
Personally, Dick was warm, generous, and outgoing with many friends.
He will be missed for his technical accomplishments, his artist
talents, and most of all for his positive, gentle, charming spirit.
Prepared by Bob Caviness, Barry Trager, and Patrizia
Gianni with contributions from
Barbara Gatje, James H. Griesmer, Tony Hearn, Manuel Bronstein, and