Richard Dimick Jenks
Axiom Developer and Computer Algebra Pioneer
Biographical Information

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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 general.

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 Erich Kaltofen.

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