Pioneer in field Cray dies

Sam Black

Seymour Cray, 71, father of the supercomputer, business entrepreneur and University graduate, died Saturday at a Colorado Springs hospital from injuries sustained in a Sept. 22 auto accident.
Cray, an electrical engineer, created what are regarded as the most powerful computers in the world. He also successfully founded and ran companies that created and sold supercomputers.
Throughout his 45-year career, Cray successfully pushed the envelope for faster speeds, smaller sizes and more complexity in computer operations. Among the companies he founded or helped found are Control Data Corp., Cray Research Inc. and Cray Computer Corp.
Today, supercomputers known as Crays are the tools of nuclear physicists, weather forecasters, oil explorers and astronauts.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, if one asked what was the most powerful computer in the world, the answer would have been the Cray, said Donald Truhlar, director of the University’s Supercomputer Institute.
“Wayne Gretzky was MVP for like seven or nine years, but Cray revolutionized his field for 30 years,” he said. “He had a larger impact on computers then any other single person.”
Cray was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and served in the army during World War II. By 1951, he had graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in mathematics.
The very private Cray gave a rare speech in 1988 to a group of supercomputer engineers. In the speech, according to a 1992 article in Computerworld, he talked about an experience he had at the University:
“In college I had a circular slide rule, the 10-inch model. That’s as big as circular slide rules were made, so I had the very top of the line,” Cray told the group.
“If you had a circular slide rule, you had some social problems in college. Almost everyone else had a straight-stick slide rule, and they came in a nice leather case with loops on the back so you could hang them on your belt. Those of us with circular slide rules couldn’t do that, so people looked at you kind of funny and thought, `Do you suppose he’s really not an engineer?'”
“I think the University should be proud of its graduate,” Truhlar said. “The tool he designed is a great example of science, and his influence is just extremely wide.”