Andries van Dam

2021 Fellow

For a lifetime of contributions to computer graphics, hypertext, and education

If you enjoy Pixar and Disney movies, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the influence of Andries (Andy) van Dam. Van Dam is professor of computer science (CS) and former vice president for research at Brown University. In his five-decade career, van Dam has taught over 10,000 students. More than 70 of them went on to become CS faculty, including eight chairs of top-ranked departments. With Jim Foley he coauthored the field-defining book, Fundamentals of Interactive Computer Graphics, in 1982. This book and its successors, also coauthored by van Dam, became the standard references in the field. Many of van Dam’s students have gone on to make major contributions to computer graphics, hypermedia, multimedia, and the online world.

Van Dam also helped seed the online world that now absorbs so much of our time. In collaboration with Ted Nelson, van Dam and his students created a pioneering hypertext system and word processor, HES (Hypertext Editing System), in 1967. HES and Douglas Engelbart’s landmark NLS (oN-Line System) were the first two interactive hypertext systems. Over the next two decades, HES’ successors at Brown became a major thread within the development of hypermedia, multimedia and web-like systems.

Van Dam and his students played important roles in the development of digital humanities, starting with the use of FRESS, the hypertext successor to HES, for teaching poetry in the 1970s under an NEH grant. In 1985 he cofounded the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship (IRIS) to expand access to graphical, networked computing and the use of hypertext and multimedia across disciplines. His collaborations with faculty in the English and creative writing departments helped seed hypertext as a form of literature. 

Van Dam speaks passionately about the role of socially responsible computing and includes relevant topics in each of his courses. Over his long teaching career, he has made explicit efforts to encourage women to study computer science by actively encouraging them to become teaching assistants and mentors to other students. Van Dam’s use of undergraduates in research and teaching was essentially unknown when he began teaching in 1965.

Originally appointed as an assistant professor of applied mathematics in 1965 to teach the then-nascent discipline of computer science, van Dam cofounded the computer science program at Brown as a joint project between the Divisions of Applied Mathematics and of Engineering. When the program became a full department, van Dam served as its first chair, from 1979 to 1985. In 1995, van Dam was appointed Thomas J. Watson, Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science.

Van Dam was born in the Netherlands and moved to the United States as a teenager. He received his BS with honors in engineering sciences from Swarthmore College in 1960, and his MS and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963 and 1966, respectively. His doctorate, A Study of Digital Processing of Pictorial Data, is considered the second computer science PhD in the United States. In 1967 van Dam cofounded the precursor to ACM SIGGRAPH, the professional society for computer graphics.

Van Dam has a number of awards as an educator and graphics pioneer, including SIGGRAPH’s Steven A. Coons award for outstanding creative contributions to computer graphics and its first Distinguished Educator award. In 1994 he became an IEEE Fellow and an ACM Fellow. He holds honorary doctorates from Swarthmore College, ETH (Zurich), Darmstadt Technical University, and the University of Waterloo. In 1996 he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, in 2000 he became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2004 was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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