IN MEMORIAM


On August 28, 1995, Gerard Salton, Professor of Computer Science, died after a courageous battle against lung cancer. He was a brilliant computer scientist-the man most responsible for the establishment, survival, and recognition of Information Retrieval (IR). The scope of his accomplishments and the impact of his work on the evolution of IR is profound-spanning the gamut of Information Retrieval: the vector space model, term weighting, relevance feedback, clustering, extended Boolean retrieval, term discrimination value, dictionary construction, term dependency, text understanding and structuring, passage retrieval, and of course, automatic text processing using SMART, now the standard upon which modern retrieval systems are based.

Gerhard Anton Sahlmann was born on March 8, 1927 in Nuremberg, Germany. World War II forced his family to flee; he and his brother, Jean, were led across a border in the night to elude German guards. He came to the United States in 1947, becoming a citizen in 1952. Gerry attended Brooklyn College, graduating in Mathematics in 1950 and receiving a masters degree in 1952. He went on to Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics in 1958, the last of Howard Aiken's doctoral students. He stayed at Harvard as an instructor (1958-1960) and then as assistant professor until he moved to Ithaca in 1965. He co-founded the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University where he remained the rest of his life. This was the start of thirty years of distinguished service to Information Retrieval, Computer Science, and Cornell University.

There is no doubt that every practitioner in the field of information retrieval would say that Gerry Salton was its leading authority. Salton was information retrieval. Gerry's name will always be associated with the SMART system, which was first established at Harvard but came into full bloom at Cornell. SMART, which is allegedly known as Salton's Magical Retriever of Text (only later given the dull interpretation "System for the Manipulation and Retrieval of Text'' by more pedantic professors), rapidly matured to the stage where it was the most advanced information retrieval system in the world for many years. It remains a powerful experimental vehicle today. Individual, a news clipping service, licensed the technology directly. Others such as WAIS (Wide Area Information Server) and DOWQUEST (a tool for the Dow Jones news wire) use technology derived from SMART, and many new systems have leveraged off his years of research. With the development of hypertext systems, massive textual databases for experimentation, current generation computing, and the impact of the Internet, a truly supportive environment for retrieval has evolved. Today, when one talks of digital libraries, surfing the net, cruising the information superhighway, navigating the web, or using keywords to retrieve needed information, we must remember our debt to Gerry Salton and his work in Information Retrieval.

Gerry gave a great deal of his time to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). He was editor-in-chief of Communications of the ACM and Journal of the ACM. He served on the ACM Council for seven years, at one time as the representative of the Northeast Region. He was a leader of SIGIR (Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval) since its inception, serving as chair from 1979-1983. At the time of his death, he was an editor of the ACM Transactions on Database Systems. He was a faithful reviewer for Computing Reviews and his extremely skillful and informative review of Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer by Dreyfus, Dreyfus, and Athanasiou (Free Press, 1986) was selected as the Best Review of 1988. He became an ACM Fellow in 1995.

Salton enjoyed writing and did a lot of it. He published more than 150 research articles and five texts on information retrieval. His honors are too numerous to mention. Among the most prestigious are the Guggenheim Fellowship in (1962), ASIS Award for Best Information Science Paper (1970), Best Information Science Book (1975), the first ACM/SIGIR Award for Outstanding Contributions to Information Retrieval (1983), The Alexander von Humboldt Senior Science Award (1988) and the ASIS Award of Merit (1989).

Gerry Salton was a nurturing, caring advisor. He demanded the highest standards of scholarship for himself and his students. Salton's proudest achievements and enduring legacies are his students-over twenty of whom wrote doctoral dissertations under his guidance. They became leaders in information retrieval; in turn, they "begat'' top students and graduates of their own-educational grandchildren of Gerard Salton-and the legacy continues.

During his years at Cornell, Gerry taught several courses-Databases and Information Retrieval being the two most visible. By far his favorite class, one renowned throughout the IR community and fondly remembered by his students, was the IR Seminar. For three decades, the research seminar met every week, building up a habit and a set of skills for analysis, synthesis, and innovation. The meeting was a rigorous testing ground for local research, a difficult minefield for outside work, and a highly effective training environment for his students.

Just as he loved his research, Gerry loved to play. On any given day you could find Gerry swimming, skiing, hiking, or sailing before hunkering down to his research. He also enjoyed Cornell ice hockey and baseball. One of his favorite pastimes was his garden-he loved his flowers, especially roses, and many homes and desks were graced with Salton's flowers. Gerry traveled quite frequently, often spending time with his wife, Mary, in Aspen. Gerry loved music and was on the Cornell Faculty Committee on Music.

Although Gerry was a quiet man, anyone could go talk to him. Gerry was a consummate scholar but also a good friend, always willing to listen and offer guidance or give thoughtful advice. He had strong feelings and often expressed his views, but he also had a subtle sense of humor. Gerry will always be remembered for his kindness, but it is his unwavering dedication to his research, career, friends, and family for which Gerry will be best remembered.

He is survived by his wife, Mary (Birnbaum) Salton; his daughter Mariann and her husband Richard Thompson; his son Peter and his wife Susan; his brother Jean Sahlmann and his wife Agnes; and three grandchildren, Morgan Thompson, Kathryn Thompson, and Alex Salton.


Go to:
Awards and Special Celebration

Return to:
1995-1996 Annual Report Home Page
Departmental Home Page

If you have questions or comments please contact: www@cs.cornell.edu.