Gray in 2006
James Nicholas Gray
January 12, 1944
|Disappeared||January 28, 2007|
Waters near San Francisco
|Status||Declared dead in absentia|
January 28, 2012 (aged 68)
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D.)|
|Known for||Work on database and transaction processing systems|
|Spouse(s)||Loretta (divorced), Donna Carnes (widowed)|
|Awards||Turing Award (1998)|
IEEE Computer Society Charles Babbage Award (1998)
James Nicholas Gray (1944 – declared dead in absentia 2012) was an American computer scientist who received the Turing Award in 1998 "for seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation".
Gray was born in San Francisco, the second child of Ann Emma Sanbrailo, a teacher, and James Able Gray, who was in the U.S. Army; the family moved to Rome, Italy, where Gray spent most of the first three years of his life; he learned to speak Italian before English. The family then moved to Virginia, spending about four years there, until Gray's parents divorced, after which he returned to San Francisco with his mother. His father, an amateur inventor, patented a design for a ribbon cartridge for typewriters that earned him a substantial royalty stream.
After being turned down for the Air Force Academy he entered the University of California, Berkeley as a freshman in 1961. To help pay for college he worked as a co-op for General Dynamics, where he learned to use a Monroe calculator. Discouraged by his chemistry grades, he left Berkeley for six months, returning after an experience in industry he later described as "dreadful". Gray earned his B.S. in Engineering Mathematics (Math and Statistics) in 1966.
After marrying, Gray moved with his wife Loretta to New Jersey, his wife's home state; she got a job as a teacher and he got one at Bell Labs working on a digital simulation that was to be part of Multics. At Bell, he worked three days a week and spent two days as a Master's student at New York University's Courant Institute. After a year they traveled for several months before settling again in Berkeley, where Gray entered graduate school with Michael A. Harrison as his advisor. In 1969 he received his Ph.D. in programming languages, then did two years of postdoctoral work for IBM.
While at Berkeley, Gray and Loretta had a daughter; they were later divorced. His second wife was Donna Carnes.
Gray pursued his career primarily working as a researcher and software designer at a number of industrial companies, including IBM, Tandem Computers, and DEC. He joined Microsoft in 1995 and was a Technical Fellow for the company[a] until he was lost at sea in 2007.
Gray contributed to several major database and transaction processing systems. IBM's System R was the precursor of the SQL relational databases that have become a standard throughout the world. For Microsoft, he worked on TerraServer-USA and Skyserver.
His best-known achievements include:
Gray, an experienced sailor, owned a 40-foot sailboat. On January 28, 2007, he failed to return from a short solo trip to the Farallon Islands near San Francisco to scatter his mother's ashes. The weather was clear, and no distress call was received, nor was any signal detected from the boat's automatic Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon.
A four-day Coast Guard search using planes, helicopters, and boats found nothing. On February 1, 2007, the DigitalGlobe satellite did a scan of the area and the thousands of images were posted to Amazon Mechanical Turk. Students, colleagues, and friends of Gray, and computer scientists around the world formed a "Jim Gray Group" to study these images for clues. On February 16 this search was suspended, and an underwater search using sophisticated equipment ended May 31.
The University of California, Berkeley and Gray's family hosted a tribute on May 31, 2008. Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope software is dedicated to Gray. In 2008, Microsoft opened a research center in Madison, Wisconsin, named after Jim Gray. On January 28, 2012, Gray was declared legally dead.
Each year, Microsoft Research presents the Jim Gray eScience Award to a researcher who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of data-intensive computing. Award recipients are selected for their ground-breaking, fundamental contributions to the field of eScience. Previous award winners include Alex Szalay (2007), Carole Goble (2008), Jeff Dozier (2009), Phil Bourne (2010), Mark Abbott (2011), Antony John Williams (2012), and Dr. David Lipman, M.D. (2013).
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(Proceedings) May 31, 2008