Professor Joe Oliger

August 2005

Joseph Oliger, professor emeritus of computer science and co-founder of Stanford's Scientific Computing and Computational Mathematics Program, died of cancer at his home in Truckee, Calif. He was 63.

Oliger was born Sept. 3, 1941, in Greensburg, Ind. He received his bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1966 and his master's degree in 1971, both from the University of Colorado. Between 1965 and 1973, he worked as a programmer and numerical analyst at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He received a doctorate in computer science from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, in 1973.

Oliger joined the Stanford Computer Science Department in 1974 as an assistant professor, teaching numerical analysis courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He became a full professor in 1980. In 1987, Oliger co-founded the Scientific Computing and Computational Mathematics Program with professors Gene Golub, George Homsy and Joseph Keller. Oliger was noted for his influential work on partial differential equations that arise in meteorological problems.

He was an active adviser and mentor for a number of graduate students. In addition to his work in the Computer Science Department, Oliger consulted with students and faculty in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics. Joe wrote many technical articles, reports and books, notably Time Dependent Problems and Difference Methods, with his former thesis adviser, Heinz-Otto Kreiss, and Bertil Gustafsson, published in 1996.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Oliger enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid rockclimber and skier. He loved the wilderness of the Sierra Nevadas, where he made his home after retiring from Stanford in September 2001.

A number of Oliger's graduate students went on to distinguished careers. "Joe's enthusiastic attitude was infectious and he had a big heart," said Wei-Pai Tang, who received his doctorate in mathematics in 1987 under Oliger's mentorship. "The march leading to my Ph.D. was long and difficult, and I am deeply indebted to him."   Former student Jim Lambers, now a research associate in Stanford's Petroleum Engineering Department, admired Oliger's ability to recognize potential new applications for existing ideas. "This readiness to examine old ideas in a new light set an example for me to follow," he said.  "Joe was creative and would devise computer solutions that would only later appear in the literature," recalled Paul Swarztrauber, a colleague of Oliger's at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "He had enormous grit and seemed almost oblivious to adversity. He was able to get to the heart of a problem."   Added Tang: "The most valuable lesson I learned from Professor Oliger is not to just follow where the path may lead, but to go where there is no path. I am proud to say that I am a member of the Oliger's large academic family."

By Melissa Fusco, Stanford News Service