This is the latest in an occasional series on people who have passed away, folks who have contributed in some way to the development of, or the way we look at, the Internet and Web. If you know of someone who should be featured, please let us know.
Andrew Witkin: Oscar-winning scientist. The phrase "Oscar-winning scientist" is rare. So was Andrew Witkin, a senior computer scientist with the animation studio Pixar. Witkin's exit was as creative as the technology he helped develop. He died while scuba-diving off Monterrey, California on September 12.
Witkin, whose academic background was in psychology, helped to develop realistic motion in cloth, fire, water and hair for the innovative movie studio behind hits like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up. He won an Oscar in 2006 for "pioneering work in physically-based computer-generated techniques used to simulate realistic cloth in motion pictures." In 2001, he had already won the Computer Graphics Achievement Award at SIGGRAPH "for his pioneering work in bringing a physics-based approach to computer graphics." He worked on hair for the upcoming Pixar film "Brave."
Partha Niyogi: applied computation to the problem of talking computers. University of Chicago Professor Niyogi took a different tack from another Dot Obits subject, Frederick Jelinek. Like Jelinek, Niyogi focused on the process of machine language acquisition. He wanted to understand how people established a relationship to language and how, using mathematics and computer programming, machines could be equipped with an analogous skill.
His other focus was data analysis. He developed "geometrically based methods for inferring hidden patterns from complex data sets." These data sets included language and object recognition. Niyogi, a native of India, was only 43. He passed away from cancer.
Felix Friedman survived Soviet anti-Semitism and depression to write the Minimal Enclosing Circle proof. Friedman, a computer science professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, was born in Belarus and educated in Moscow. Anti-Semitism was a drag on his career, however, and he emmigrated to the U.S.
His greatest claim to fame was his construction an algorithm to draw the smallest possible circle around a set of points in the shortest time, a problem known variously as the smallest enclosing circle problem and the bomb problem. It took him over two years to create the Minimal Enclosing Circle. This proof was 15 times faster than best existing solution prior to his proof. Although it was considered by some to be a significant mathematical breakthrough, his Soviet-conditioned personality and the relative obscurity of his institution left him somewhat in the cold when it came to peer recognition.