College of Computing Mourns Loss of Regents’ Professor Karsten Schwan

Regents’ Professor Karsten Schwan, a prolific researcher and faculty leader in the School of Computer Science, passed away Sept. 28, following a battle with cancer.

Schwan, who had taught in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing since 1988, leaves behind more than 70 active Ph.D. students, nine active research projects, 26 software systems, and a legacy of 276 published writings in books, journals, and conference proceedings. He was co-director of the Center for Experimental Research in Computer Systems (CERCS) and of the Interactive High-Performance Computation Laboratory at Georgia Tech, as well as associate editor of two professional journals.

In recent years, much of Schwan’s work involved collaboration with colleagues Ada Gavrilovska, Matt Wolf, and Greg Eisenhauer, all research scientists in the School of Computer Science.

“Karsten was an active and leading figure in a computing, not only through his own contributions, but also through the legacy of his many students who have careers throughout academia and industry,” Wolf said, describing Schwan as a font of boundless energy. “And although we talk of students, past and present, I think a more apt term was that he was developing his future collaborators and colleagues. Hierarchies and boundaries didn’t matter much to him, but the people he knew and worked with certainly did.”

Schwan earned his undergraduate degree at West Germany’s Christian-Albrechts Universitaet, then came to the United States to complete his master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University as a Fulbright Scholar under the German Fulbright Commission. His thesis, “Tailoring Software for Multiple Processor Systems,” was selected as one of six theses in 1982 to be printed as a book in the “Computer Science Series” by UMI Research Press.

Schwan immediately began teaching and also developed longstanding research relationships with Sandia National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Labs, the U.S. Department of Energy, and corporations such as Intel. He was a sought-after consultant for companies such as IBM, Siemens, KSR Corp., and others. His more than 120 research projects throughout his career led to the creation of 26 software systems and honors such as the 2013 R&D 100 Award from Oak Ridge National Labs for ADIOS IO for high-performance computing.

David Bader, chair of the School of Computational Science and Engineering, praised Schwan’s endeavors in high performance computing at Georgia Tech.

“Karsten recognized the needs of scientists and engineers by improving high-end computing systems for their use in real applications,” Bader said. “He will be missed by our community.”

Associate Professor Santosh Pande, who was recruited to Georgia Tech by Schwan, learned a great deal about systems research from Schwan’s unique approach to it.

“In academia, it is especially true that one gets influenced a lot by one’s colleagues in terms of one’s research interests, philosophies and such in our evolution as teachers and researchers,” Pande said. “I learnt about many nuances of systems research from Karsten. His angle on what is important in a problem, systems research-wise, was very unique … I will deeply miss him.”

Professor and Chair Lance Fortnow called Schwan’s passing “a huge loss” for the School of Computer Science – “not just professionally but because Karsten had such an important influence in the School’s development and has been such a great friend and mentor to many faculty and students,” he said. “It’s very hard to imagine the School without him.”

Dean Zvi Galil said Schwan was one of the College’s “foremost researchers” in high-performance computing. “He leaves behind a legacy of scholarly and academic achievement that would be difficult to match.”

It was his personal character that Wolf will remember from 16 years of working together.

“He was always one to refocus a conversation, not to dwell on where things had gone wrong, but on how to move forward and make them better,” Wolf added. “His vision, his insight, his sparkle, and his wit will all be keenly missed.”

Details about a memorial service by the College of Computing will be forthcoming.

David A. Bader
David A. Bader
Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Data Science

David A. Bader is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science at New Jersey Institute of Technology.