University of Calgary

Advancing technological innovation

UToday HomeJanuary 11, 2013

Jon Rokne has been named a fellow of the IEEE. Courtesy of Inji HwangJon Rokne has been named a fellow of the IEEE. Courtesy of Inji HwangJon Rokne, a professor in the computer science department in the Faculty of Science, has been named a fellow in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Rokne has long worked in the field of computer graphics and scientific computations, developing algorithms to speed up computer graphics computations and improving the accuracy of computations.

“There are inevitable errors that occur in computations because of the finiteness of the representation of numerical values,” he says. “We’ve worked a fair amount in the area of mitigating errors from computations.”

It is a crucial area of study within computer science — science that we rely on completely while at the same time being largely oblivious to its importance.

“There are some famous cases of problems that haven’t taken into account computational errors and been significant disasters occur because of that,” says Rokne.

For example, Rokne points to the 1996 crash of the European Ariane 5. The space craft plummeted to the ground 40 seconds after takeoff because programmers failed to take into account the software and computational errors.

Over his long career, Rokne, who published the first of four books in 1984, has seen his field progress from the days of paper tape and punch cards.

“When I first started developing scientific software storage was at a premium,” he says. “You worked very hard to make programs fit into small storage locations because the cost of storage was enormous. It would take $15,000 for a relatively small disc with a storage capacity of a pocket watch today.”

Rokne says he’s honoured to be recognized by IEEE, an organization he has been involved with for years, including serving as vice president of publications. Several members of the Schulich School of Engineering have been named IEEE Fellows, but Rokne thinks he might be the first in the Faculty of Science.

IEEE is dedicated to “advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity” through publications, conferences, developing technology standards as well as organizing professional and educational activities.