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Prof. Richard Crandall dead at 64

By Chris Lydgate ’90 on December 20, 2012 11:52 AM

Richard Crandall

The polymath at work. Professor Richard Crandall ’69 [physics 1978–2012] knew how to cut through a tangle of equations to the root of the problem.

The Reed community was stunned today to learn that physicist, mathematician, computer scientist, and inventor Richard E. Crandall ’69 [physics 1978–] died this morning at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital.

The cause was not immediately clear, but Professor Crandall was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

It is impossible to catalogue Crandall’s myriad intellectual achievements on such short notice. He was a physics professor of great renown at Reed and beyond, skilled at constructing fundamental experiments on a shoestring budget (one of his favorite tricks involved demonstrating the Doppler shift in visible light using a couple of old stereo speakers).

Richard Crandall and Steve Jobs

Crandall arm-in-arm with Steve Jobs ’76 at convocation in 1991, when Jobs was honored with the Vollum Award.

Richard Crandall and Bill Gates

Crandall demonstrating one of his algorithms to Microsoft founder Bill Gates in 1984.

He was also a prodigious inventor who held several patents, including one that was employed in the design of motion detectors.

He was a number theorist whose algorithms led to the discovery of some of the largest prime numbers ever known, with enormous significance in the field of cryptography. He also wrote programs to model the rings of Saturn, calculate the fractal dimensions of the brain, predict the progression of epidemics, and play several games, including billiards, chess, and poker (added feature: the computer could bluff).

A pioneer in the use of computers in the liberal arts, he directed Reed's Center for Advanced Computation and was the author of several computer languages and textbooks.

Crandall maintained a close working relationship with Steve Jobs ’76 and held several positions at Apple, where at various times he served as Chief Cryptographer, Distinguished Scientist, and head of the Advanced Computation Group. He was in fact working on an intellectual biography of Jobs when he died.

He is survived by his former wife, Tess, and their daughter, Ellen.

Read a more complete obituary in Reed magazine.

His memorial will be held Saturday, January 26.