Campus Tribute Honors Missing UC Berkeley Researcher

Colleagues Remember Jim Gray's Passion, Contributions to Computer Science


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A tribute honoring UC Berkeley alumnus and researcher Jim Gray was held at Zellerbach Auditorium on Saturday to celebrate his achievements on campus and in the field of computer science.

Gray, who in 1969 was the first person to ever earn a doctorate in computer science from UC Berkeley, disappeared in January 2007 while sailing in his boat to the Farallon Islands near the San Francisco Bay.

Gray's family officially called off search efforts to locate him one year ago from Saturday.

Among Gray's accomplishments are the building of a Web site called TerraServer years before Google Earth and SkyServer became household names. While working, Gray also helped develop e-commerce, online ticketing and automated teller machines.

Speakers at the tribute included Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering, who said Gray's accomplishments speak to his ability to approach problems from a multidisciplinary perspective.

"He did this without a sense of boundaries," Sastry said. "He'd hook up people from all over the world to work on big problems."

After receiving a bachelor's degree in math from UC Berkeley in 1961, Gray pursued a doctoral degree in computer science.

Michael Harrison, professor emeritus in the division of electrical engineering and computer science, who was one of Gray's professors, said Gray was an exceptional and unique student and researcher.

"Jim could just grow and grow and grow. He had a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts about how things could be done better," Harrison said. "He was really a fine guy, a good scientist and a dear friend."

After college, Gray went on to work as a programmer at companies such as IBM, Tandem Computers and Microsoft Corporation.

Gray helped found the Berkeley Water Center within the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society on campus; he also worked with various faculty and students on campus on about a weekly basis, Sastry said.

In 1998, Gray earned the prestigious A.M. Turing Award, known as the "Nobel Prize" in computing, for his work in the field.

Sastry said Gray contributed his time, money and energy freely to student and faculty research.

"I think he was a wonderful guy in the sense that he was a towering intellect, but still had time to advise (others)," Sastry said.

Following a tribute for Gray at Zellerbach Auditorium, there was a technical session that included lectures at Wheeler Hall.

The day-long event was sponsored by UC Berkeley, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Gray's family, among others.


Angelica Dongallo is the news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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