Architecture and Hardware

In Memoriam: John R. Rice

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By Eugene H. Spafford, with assistance by Simson Garfinkel

John Rischard Rice, a leading scientist and educator, died at home on Jan. 7, 2024. Rice was the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and a professor of mathematics at Purdue University.

Rice was born June 6, 1934, in Tulsa, OK, to Margaret L. and John K. Rice. He spent his childhood in several small towns in Oklahoma, as well as three years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when his father accepted an offer to be administrator of the government Technical School. After beginning undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, Rice obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mathematics from Oklahoma State University in 1954 and 1956. While a student, he spent summers working on mathematical computing for the aerospace industry on the West Coast.

After receiving his master’s degree, Rice enrolled in the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1959 under the supervision of Arthur Erdélyi. He next took a postdoctoral position at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST) and thereafter joined the staff of General Motors (GM) in Warren, MI.

In 1964, Rice left GM and joined the faculty of Purdue University as a full professor with a joint appointment between mathematics and the new computer science department, the nation’s first. In 1983, he became the department’s head, and his appointment changed to full professor of computer science with a courtesy appointment in mathematics. In 1989, he was appointed as the W. Brooks Fortune professor, which was shortly elevated to distinguished professor. He stepped down as department head in 1996, and transitioned to emeritus status in 2004.

Over his long career, Rice authored over 300 articles and was the author or co-author of 25 book chapters and 21 books, including the widely-used textbook Introduction to Computer Science (1969). His first article referencing computation was published while he was a college sophomore. He advised 19 students to obtain their Ph.D. degrees at Purdue.

Rice was noted for his work in mathematical computation, especially approximation theory, the solution of elliptic partial differential equations, analysis of algorithms, and scientific computing. Starting in the late 1970s, he led the creation of ELLPACK software for solving elliptic problems, which was widely used in science and engineering. In 1970, he organized the first two Symposia on Mathematical Software and was the founding editor of ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software (TOMS) in 1975; he remained its editor-in-chief until 1993. In 1974, Rice co-founded the IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) working group 2.5 on mathematical software.

In 2001, Rice was a co-founder, with Purdue colleagues, of the company Arxan (now, specializing in producing digital anti-tamper technology.  He served as a scientific consultant and advisor to the company for several years, and was a co-inventor of six patents related to this technology.

Among many professional activities and honors, Rice was an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the ACM, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He received the IFIP Silver Core Award in 1989 and a Sigma Xi Research Achievement Award in 1994. He served on the Computing Research Association (CRA) board of directors from 1987 to 1994, and was elected chair from 1991-1993.  A special ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software issue in Rice’s honor came out in 2000 as volume 26, issue #2. Purdue named one of its research computing clusters “Rice” in his honor; it was decommissioned in January 2021 after five years of service.

Rice married Nancy A. Bradfield in 1954. She predeceased him in 2008. Their two daughters, Amy L. Rice and Jenna Rice Thomas (spouse William R. Thomas), survive him. Rice remarried in 2010 to Janice Lauer, a Purdue emerita distinguished professor who predeceased him in 2021.

The family will have a private memorial service at a later date. Contributions to honor the memory of John Rice may be made to the “John R. Rice Fellowship in Scientific Computing Endowment” at Purdue University.


John R. Rice: Mathematical Software Pioneer, by Thomas Haigh, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol 32(4), Oct-Dec2010.

Editorial: special issue in honor of John Rice’s 65th birthday, Ronald Boisvert et al., ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software, Volume 26, Issue 2, June 2000, Special issue in honor of John Rice’s 65th birthday.

Purdue University CS Department webpage biography:

Wikipedia page:

J.R. Rice abbreviated vita:

Purdue University page on research computing:

Eugene H. Spafford is a professor of computer science and the founder and executive director emeritus of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurances and Security (CERIAS) at Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN, USA. He is an ACM Fellow. Simson Garfinkel is an ACM Fellow.

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