Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Now the games are over – what’s our legacy? How can we inspire a generation?

London 2012 Olympic Park
I really didn’t expect to love the Olympics as much as I did. I’m not really into sport and have never taken much interest before, but this time I was absolutely enthralled. London, being the host city, obviously had a bearing on my enthusiasm and enjoyment, but what now the games are over? A lot of talk centred around the Olympics 2012 ethos of ‘inspiring a generation’ and this got me thinking about NAG’s legacy and how we too can inspire.

NAG has had a busy year as well; we've managed to produce significant new releases of our four main numerical software products, the C and Fortran Libraries, the Library for SMP & Multicore and the Toolbox for MATLAB®. If you study the history of the Library you start to understand how truly amazing it is. So is the Library NAG’s legacy? Well, funnily enough, our legacy is right there in each of the new releases. That’s why the NAG Library is amazing. It’s an ever changing, ever improving set of codes that have been developed by people that work here or contributed by well-known and maybe not so quite well-known numerical analysts, statisticians and computer scientists from all around the world.

Back in the day – 1970 to be precise – Brian Ford, NAG’s Founding Director, was inspired with a vision of a collective inter-university numerical library and set about creating the first NAG Library. Mentored by the legendary Jim Wilkinson, Brian established NAG as an organisation that was, and still is not-for-profit. Brian said of Jim,
“he gave us his invaluable numerical linear algebra software, and his contacts".
Brian's key ideals were voluntary collaboration and quality in every phase of the activity. Over the years mathematical and statistical routines have been contributed by some highly regarded people:



Optimization contributions, enabled by David Martin, came from Walter Murray and Phil Gill of the UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL). Further contributions from NPL came from Geoff Hayes and Maurice Cox in Curve and Surface Fitting. Ian Gladwell contributed in the area of differential equations and Brian Smith in polynomial root finding. We also gratefully acknowledge the considerable work of Elise De Donker for quadrature, Nick Maclaren for random numbers, Lawrie Schonfelder for special functions and NAG’s own Sven Hammarling and Jeremy Du Croz, along with Jack Dongarra and Jim Demmel, for their work on linear algebra and LAPACK (these are only a few of the many, many great NAG code donators).

Fast forward to the current day and code contribution remains a cornerstone of our activities. At the recent AGM I watched a fantastic presentation on ‘Algorithmic Differentiation’ by Professor Uwe Naumann of the University of Aachen, who collaborates with NAG on bespoke versions of the Library. There’s also the significant work of Professor Nick Higham in the new nearest correlation matrix and functions of matrices available in the latest marks of the Libraries.

So how do we 'inspire a generation' in 2012? Well, we have a vision to elevate co-operative working to a new level and promote code contribution. We want to see new people donate their codes for evaluation and possible inclusion in the NAG Library, so if you’re reading this and feel inspired, get involved. Email me and we can talk about the ways of working together, or sign up to our email newsletter for future announcements.

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