Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland
Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland

Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland

Ivan Sutherland is an American scientist, most famous for the creation of the Sketchpad program in 1963. Sketchpad was looked upon as a major breakthrough in computer graphics, and today’s modern CAD-software is based around this program.

Sutherland was born in 1938 in Hartings in Nebraska. Both his parents, his father was a Ph.D. in civil engineering and his mother a teacher, encouraged Sutherland to study, and at school he showed a keen interest in geometry. He had his first encounter with a computer in high school. This was a relay-based computer with 12 bits of memory. The computer, called SIMON, could add number up to 15. Sutherland wrote an eight-page paper roll program that made the computer divide numbers, and this was the longest program anyone had written for SIMON.

He did his bachelor degree in electrical engineering in 1959 at Carnegie Institute of Technology on a full scholarship, followed by a master degree in the same subject in 1960 at California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland with Sketchpad
Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland with Sketchpad

For his Ph.D., he transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he worked on his thesis “Sketchpad: A Man-machine Graphical Communications System”, the first real GUI. The program itself ran on a TX-2 computer, a computer used to investigate the use of Surface Barrier transistors for digital circuits, and who was equipped with a nine inch CRT and a lightpen. After working with the machine, Sutherland got the idea of the possibility to draw on the computer itself. In addition to the actual drawing, Sketchpad was innovative in the fields of memory structure, and zooming.

Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland with a head mouted dispaly for 3D rendering
Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland with a
head mouted dispaly for 3D rendering

After his Ph.D., Sutherland was enlisted in the army and worked as an electrical Engineer for the National Security Agency (NSA), before being transferred to the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) where he worked on projects in timesharing and artificial intelligence. After his service, in 1965, Sutherland became a professor at Harvard University. While at Harvard, Sutherland helped create what is believed to be the first virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted display.

He moved on to the University of Utah in 1968, where he continued to work in computer graphics. The same year, he also started Evans and Sutherland with his colleague David Evans, working with 3D computer graphics, real-time hardware and printer communication.  In 1976 Sutherland became the head of the new computer science department at Caltech. There he made integrated circuit design a subject, and this is said to be one of the forces behind the chip boom in Silicon Valley.

Today, Sutherland is the Vice President at Sun Microsystems. He is also leading the research in Asynchronous Systems at Portland State University.

Additional information, see Biography of a Luminary.