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Introduction to Computer Science. Life and Career of Ivan Sutherland By: Alicia Kenny . COMP-1631. Growing up. Born in Hastings, Nebraska in 1938 Sutherland showed interest early on in engineering having been expose to his father’s career as a civil engineer

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introduction to computer science

Introduction to Computer Science

Life and Career

of Ivan Sutherland

By: Alicia Kenny



Growing up

  • Born in Hastings, Nebraska in 1938
  • Sutherland showed interest early on in engineering having been expose to his father’s career as a civil engineer
  • He learned how to program a computer (during the 1950’s) which was an amazing feet for a high school student
early years
Early Years

Ivan Sutherland began the basis of his career with an impressive educational background

  • He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology on a full scholarship where he obtained his B.S. in electrical engineering
  • Following Carnegie, he went to the California Institute of Technology to earn an M.S.
  • Then furthered his education even more by pursuing his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of technology
  • Sutherland had his first big accomplishment with MIT having built the Sketchpad for his theses.

The Sketchpad was a computer program that allowed for graphical images to be displayed on a screen using a lightpen

  • It was the first step in achieving Graphical User Interface
  • It was an alternate way of communicating with the computer
breaking into the real world
Breaking into the real world
  • In 1963, Sutherland was appointed First Lieutenant in the Army and was dedicated to being an electrical engineer just like he always wanted
  • He was transferred a year later, at the age of just 26, to run the Information Processing Techniques office to take part in advanced research projects
  • He aimed to further the field of computer science and preferred to focus on artificial intelligence and timesharing

1965 -1968

  • Sutherland moved from the army to the prestigious position as associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard University
  • He has an honorary degree from Harvard
  • He remained there for 3 years where he developed computer graphic tools
  • This research was valid however Sutherland chose to head in a different direction in his future works

In 1968, Sutherland and one of his students, Bob Sproull, created what we call today an HDM or Head Mounted Display.

  • It was called the Sword of Democles and it was a machine that was hung from the ceiling due to its enormous weight and simply displayed images
  • Compared to today’s technology this device was primitive with very low quality graphics however, It is arguably the first evidence of having a virtualized display system

Interesting Fact: This machine got its name from

the Greek story of Democles who had a sword suspended

by a hair above his throne and at any moment the hair

could break, severing the King.

the collaboration
The Collaboration
  • Sutherland was offered a professorial position at the University of Utah
  • Here he met Dave Evans who founded the computer science department at the university
  • Using both of their computer graphics knowledge, Evans and Sutherland completed a series of projects which include computer games.


  • The two men formed a computer consulting company in Salt Lake City called Evans & Sutherland
  • It is known to be the very first computer graphics company
  • It has been around for the past 4 decades
  • In a year today, their company produces $150 million worth of products
  • They continue to be major developers in computer imaging systems along with being suppliers of simulation equipment used for training pilots

Includes full dome video imaging

  • Integrated digital universe database
  • They made a series of advanced theatre systems called Digistar
  • It is primarily used in planetariums, museums and science centres

Most of the virtual systems made by Evans and Sutherland use lasers to project the images

  • This creates spectacularly clear and life-like images
  • It contains ``Gap-Free`` pixel technology which allows for smooth and continuous viewing
  • GLV or Grating Light Valve modulator is also another feature which adds to its high quality
  • It has a microchip which has movable mirror parts. This allows for light to be modulated and displayed

Laser Projection


Teaching career continues

  • Began Leading the computer science department at California Institute of Technology
  • Sutherland teamed up with Carver Mead making integrated circuit design an official field of academic study
  • They even began teaching it opening the doors for future generations of integrated circuit design specialists

1980-1991 Sutherland and his previous student Bob Sproull formed a company called Sutherland, Sproull and Associates

  • It was fairly successful which caught the eye of Sun Microsystems Laboratories who bought the company for its patents and key individuals



Sutherland Today

  • Is now the vice president of Sun Microsystems
  • Holds 12 patents
  • Has written over 49 Publications
  • Sutherland is participating is research along side Marly Roncken at the Asynchronous Research Centre in Portland (part of Portland State University)


  • Computer History Museum Fellow - October 18, 2005
  • R&D 100 Awards – July 12, 2004
  • IEEE John Von Neumann Medal – December 9, 1997
  • Smithsonian Computer World Award - 1996
  • First Zworykin Award from the National Academy of Engineering – 1972
  • A.M Turing Award - 1988