steven anson coons…lest we forget!

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  • Editorial

    Steven Anson Coons... lest we forget/

    Outstandingly gifted students usually earn degrees. Engineers, whose ideas are widely adopted in industry, usually earn quite a lot of money. Good people, who never harm anyone and show only kindness towards their environment, usually receive kindness and consideration in return. Although he fulfilled all the requirements, none of these things happened to Steven Coons. And, on August 19, 1979 in Boulder, Colorado, a brilliant scientist, the author of procedures that are today used in all the world's major aircraft, automobile and ship design offices, a generous, warm hearted man whose every thought was to help others, Steven Anson Coons died.

    Born in New York State in 1912, Steven Coons became a student at MIT in 1932 but left to become a freelance professional photo- grapher in 1936. When the war broke out, he took a job with the Chance-Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Company, where up to 1947, he developed the mathematical methods for defining and computing airframe shapes that are now the basis of computer programs used throughout the aircraft industry.

    After a period as a designer of hi-fi sound reproduction equipment, Steven Coons joined the faculty of MIT in 1948, becoming first an Assistant and in 1960, an Associate Professor. After 21 years at MIT, in 1969 he transferred to Syracuse University, from which he retired in 1976, as Professor Emeritus of Systems and Information Science. He spent one year as a Visiting Fellow at the Computer and Automation Institute,

    North-Holland Publishing Company Computer in Industry 1 (1979) 63-64

    Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and then moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he worked part-time as a consultant.

    At the core of this colourful career lies his tremendous pioneering work on complex sur- faces: the discovery of what have come to be known as "Coons' patches" or "Coons' surfaces". Characteristically, the much- referenced work in which he published these results is not a best-selling, royalty-paying text-book, but an MIT Report 'MAC TR 41', entitled "Surfaces for Computer Aided Design of Space Forms" (1964). It is today the foundation for many doctoral theses and engineering textbooks, and, of course, for the surface description techniques used in the "free-form" surface industries.

    Steven Coons' other great legacy is his pupils: Herzog, Sutherland, Negroponte, Riesenfeld . . . . to mention but a few of the familiar names. Many of his written works have never been published they were con- tained in one or the other of his charming letters or the helpfully critical observations with which he was so generous. Even so, his influence on the presentday evolution of com- puter-aided design has been enormous. References to his works may be found in almost every issue of the American, British, French, Soviet, Czechoslovakian and other journals devoted to this field. Papers on his "patches" have been delivered at IFIP events in Rome, Scotland, Budapest, London, Mos- cow and Tokyo.

    When this Editor last spoke with Steven Coons, (a couple of months before he died), he was full of new ideas about the funda- mental thought processes involved in the creative aspects of design. He left these ideas


  • 64 Editorial

    for us, the survivors, to nurture and develop. Lest we forget, he would have been able to

    do it with more mathematical clarity and greater industrial applicability, as well as more

    elegantly and with a better sense of humour!

    J. Hatvany Member, Advisory Editorial Board