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In memoriam professor Harry Wijshoff

On March 28, 2023, our esteemed colleague Prof. Harry Wijshoff passed away. He died after a struggle of several months against a serious illness.

Harry was born on March 15, 1960 in Grevenbicht, a Maas village in southern Limburg. After his final exams in Gymnasium b├Ęta at the Bisschoppelijk College in Sittard, he went to study mathematics at the Rijksuniversiteit in Utrecht in 1978, where he passed his candidate exam in 1982 with a minor in computer science, cum laude. A year later he did a doctoral degree in mathematics, also cum laude, majoring in foundations of mathematics and complexity of algorithms. In 1987, he received his doctorate from Professor Jan van Leeuwen in Utrecht, on a thesis on Data Organization in Parallel Computers.

After his PhD, he went to work as a scientific collaborator in Utrecht, visiting the Supercomputing Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA, and at NASA Ames. There he worked on the CEDAR-computer, where he gained great knowledge in the field of distributed systems, and supercomputers. 

In 1992, at a very young age, he became a professor of applied computer science at Leiden University. He did not come to Leiden alone, but with him came several researchers, including Peter Knijnenburg, Aart Bik, and Lex Wolters. Leiden University had gained a research group with an international reputation.

Not much later, in 1996, LIACS, the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, was founded. Harry was the first scientific director, and creator of the institute's name. Because of a high societal demand for computer science education, learning courses were set up for industry, such as CMG, Aegon, and PTT Post. The Spin-Off Initiative Leiden (SOIL), a nursery of IT-based companies, was also an initiative of his.

Harry did research on parallel programming languages, compilers, and algorithms for sparse matrix computations, ("rarefied matrices") with applications in weather forecasting and astronomy, among others. Science was his passion. To fill the Pascal chair, Harry managed to find great names, including George Cybenko, Kyle Gallivan and Constantine Polychronopoulos.

Harry led the High Performance Computing group in Leiden. He supervised 19 PhD students, on topics ranging from compiler technology, parallel programming models, metaprogramming, databases, to computer networks. Sparse matrix computations were of great importance, even to the extent that in several dissertations working with sparse matrices was known as "matrix duty," because everyone had to deal with it sooner or later. After their doctorate, his PhD students found work in international business, and in science. One of his alumni is a professor in Germany and one in the USA.

Harry was a key player in the establishment of the national research school ASCI, the Advanced School for Computing and Imaging, with researchers from almost all of the computer science institutes in the Netherlands. He also stood at the cradle of the DAS, the Distributed ASCI Supercomputer, a succession of high performance systems spread across Leiden, Delft, Amsterdam and Utrecht. The first DAS became operational in 1997; DAS-6 is currently active. On the various DASs, generations of PhD students have been able to conduct research on cluster computers, and in particular also on high performance cluster computers scattered throughout the Netherlands.

Harry was a colorful person. He loved music, and played the clarinet at a high level. He performed with the Leids Harmonie Orkest, with which he faithfully rehearsed every Wednesday evening. His children also played music, something Harry loved to talk about. Harry was a bon vivant. He had a distinct sense of humor, and loved good food. During the Corona period, he took his research group on dune hikes to keep the spirit going.

Harry was also a colorful teacher. He had strong opinions about the computer science curriculum, as he had many strong opinions. He diligently taught the courses computer networks in the bachelor, and high performance computing in the master. He also taught a research seminar, in which interested students worked with Harry on topics from recent scientific papers. Thus he was able to motivate and interest many students in science. Remote teaching was not his thing. Whenever possible, he taught in person, inviting students to the university.

Our thoughts are with persons close to Harry, especially Harry's wife and children. We wish them much strength in bearing this great loss. The world has become a little duller without Harry. We will miss him.

Book of condolence

A book of condolence has been set up in Harry's study in the Snellius Building (room 137 on the second floor). Everyone is welcome to write down a greeting or memory of Harry.

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