The New MathWorks Chair

On February 7, 1985, the MIT Mathematics Department purchased 10 copies of a software program called MATLAB, short for Matrix Laboratory. It thus became the first customer of a young Boston-area startup called MathWorks, founded a year earlier by Jack Little ’78 (EECS) and Cleve Moler. These days, the company’s products – MATLAB and Simulink – are used by engineers and scientists around the world. A few months ago, we were delighted to learn that Little and Moler planned to create the MathWorks endowed professorship through a major gift to the MIT Mathematics Department.

Moler was a professor of mathematics and computer science for almost 20 years at the University of Michigan, Stanford, and the University of New Mexico when he wrote MATLAB to enable students to use the LINPACK and EISPACK math libraries without writing FORTRAN programs. MATLAB soon came to the attention of Little, who recognized it as a powerful software solution that could enable engineering, scientific, and technical applications on the personal computer.

Today, MathWorks employs 2,300 people and has over a million users worldwide. Its products have been adopted by more than 5,000 universities and colleges. Little and Moler serve as the company’s President and Chief Mathematician, respectively. As Mike Sipser, Head of the Department of Mathematics, stated, “The company has a strong social mission, and its leadership believes in the importance of mathematics as the cornerstone of all sciences. It also believes in the strength of MIT’s Mathematics Department.”

Little, the son of Institute Professor John Little ’48 (VIII), Ph.D. ’55 (VIII) at the Sloan School, received an S.B. from MIT EECS in 1978. Six years ago, Little joined the Mathematics Department Visiting Committee and has been a member ever since. MIT’s initial purchase of MATLAB, along with Little’s undergraduate work at the Institute, sparked an ongoing relationship between MathWorks and MIT that has prospered for more than 25 years.

We are all delighted that Professor Gil Strang has been selected to hold the first MathWorks Chair. Professor Strang’s research focuses on mathematical analysis, linear algebra and PDEs. His service to the academic community is extensive, and he has received distinctions for his research, service, and teaching, including the Chauvenet Prize, 1976; the Award for Distinguished Service, SIAM, 2003; the Graduate School Teaching Award, MIT, 2003; the Von Neumann Prize Medal of the United States Association for Computational Mechanics, 2005; the Lester R. Ford Prize, MAA, 2005; the Franklin and Deborah Tepper Haimo Prize, MAA, 2006; and the Su Buchin Prize of the International Congress of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, 2007. Professor Strang is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He came to MIT upon completing his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1959. He received an S.B. from MIT in 1955, and a B.A. and M.A. as a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University in 1957. He joined the MIT mathematics faculty in 1962, becoming a professor in 1970.