Gerald Sussman

Gerald Sussman


Gerald Jay Sussman is the Panasonic (formerly Matsushita) Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the S.B. and the Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968 and 1973, respectively. He has been involved in artificial intelligence research at M.I.T. since 1964. His research has centered on understanding the problem-solving strategies used by scientists and engineers, with the goals of automating parts of the process and formalizing it to provide more effective methods of science and engineering education. Sussman has also worked in computer languages, in computer architecture and in VLSI design.

Sussman is a coauthor (with Hal Abelson and Julie Sussman) of the introductory computer science textbook used at M.I.T. The textbook, "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," has been translated into French, German, Chinese, Polish, and Japanese. As a result of this and other contributions to computer-science education, Sussman received the ACM's Karl Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award in 1990, and the Amar G. Bose award for teaching in 1992.

Sussman's contributions to Artificial Intelligence include problem solving by debugging almost-right plans and various language structures for expressing problem-solving strategies. His work with Richard Stallman developed propagation of constraints for application to electrical circuit analysis and synthesis, and dependency-based explanation and backtracking. Sussman and his former student, Guy L. Steele Jr., invented the Scheme programming language in 1975.

Sussman saw that Artificial Intelligence ideas can be applied to computer-aided design. Sussman developed, with his graduate students, sophisticated computer-aided design tools for VLSI. Steele made the first Scheme chips in 1978. These ideas and the AI-based CAD technology to support them were further developed in the Scheme chips of 1979 and 1981. The technique and experience developed was then used to design other special-purpose computers. Sussman was the principal designer of the Digital Orrery, a machine designed to do high-precision integrations for orbital-mechanics experiments. The Orrery was designed and built by a few people in a few months, using AI-based simulation and compilation tools.

Using the Digital Orrery, Sussman has worked with Jack Wisdom to discover numerical evidence for chaotic motions in the outer planets. The Digital Orrery is now retired at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Sussman was also the lead designer of the Supercomputer Toolkit, another multiprocessor computer optimized for evolving systems of ordinary differential equations. The Supercomputer Toolkit was used by Sussman and Wisdom to confirm and extend the discoveries made with the Digital Orrery to include the entire planetary system.

Sussman has pioneered the use of computational descriptions to communicate methodological ideas in teaching subjects in Electrical Circuits and in Signals and Systems. Over the past decade Sussman and Wisdom have developed a subject that uses computational techniques to communicate a deeper understanding of advanced Classical Mechanics. Computational algorithms are used to express the methods used in the analysis of dynamical phenomena. Expressing the methods in a computer language forces them to be unambiguous and computationally effective. Students are expected to read our programs and to extend them and to write new ones. The task of formulating a method as a computer-executable program and debugging that program is a powerful exercise in the learning process. Also, once formalized procedurally, a mathematical idea becomes a tool that can be used directly to compute results. Sussman and Wisdom, with Meinhard Mayer, have produced a textbook, "Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics," to capture these ideas.

Sussman has been involved in the engineering of both amateur and professional telescopes. He redesigned and rebuilt the mirror-support system for the 2.4m Hiltner telescope on Kitt Peak, and he helped build and, with Julie Sussman, wrote the first prototype software for the guider-probe controllers for the 6.5m Magellan telescopes on Las Campanas in Chile.

Sussman is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Sussman is a founding director of the Free Software Foundation. He has been a bonded locksmith. He is a life member of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWI), a member of the Massachusetts Watchmakers-Clockmakers Association, a member of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston (ATMOB), and a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).


  • Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics, Gerald Jay Sussman and Jack Wisdom with Meinhard E. Mayer, MIT Press, 2001.
  • ``Cellular Gate Technology,'' Thomas F. Knight and Gerald Jay Sussman, Proc. UMC98, First International Conference on Unconventional Models of Computation, Auckland, NZ, January 1998.
  • ``Sparse Representations for Fast, One-shot learning'', Kenneth Yip and Gerald Jay Sussman, Proc. of National Conference on Artificial Intelligence, July 1997.
    A longer version appears as MIT AI Lab Memo #1633, May 1998
  • ``A Computational Model for the Acquisition and Use of Phonological Knowledge,'' Kenneth Yip and Gerald Jay Sussman, MIT Artificial Intelligence Memo 1575, March 1996.
  • ``Amorphous Computing,'' Harold Abelson, Don Allen, Daniel Coore, Chris Hanson, George Homsy, Thomas F. Knight, Jr., Radhika Nagpal, Erik Rauch, Gerald Jay Sussman, Ron Weiss, in Communications of the ACM , 43 , 5, May 2000. Also as MIT Artificial Intelligence Memo 1665, August 1999.
  • ``Comparison between subsonic flow simulation and physical measurements of flue pipes,'' Panayotis. A. Skordos and Gerald Jay Sussman, Proceedings of ISMA 95, International Symposium on Musical Acoustics, Le Normont, France, July 1995. Also MIT Artificial Intelligence Memo 1535, April 1995.
  • ``Gravitational radiation from a particle in circular orbit around a black hole. II: Numerical results for the nonrotating case,'' Curt Cutler, Lee Samuel Finn, Eric Poisson, and Gerald Jay Sussman, Phys. Rev. D., 47, No. 4, pp 1511--1517, Feb 1993.
  • ``The last three minutes: measurements of coalescing compact binaries with LIGO,'' C. Cutler, T.A. Apostolatos, L. Bildsten, L.S. Finn, E.E.Flanagan, D. Kennefick, D.M. Markovic, A. Ori, E. Poisson, G.J. Sussman, and K.S. Thorne, Phys. Rev. Letters, 70, pp. 2984--2988.
  • ``Chaotic Evolution of the Solar System,'' Gerald Jay Sussman and Jack Wisdom, Science, 257, 3 July 1992.
  • ``The Supercomputer Toolkit: A general framework for special-purpose computing,'' with A. Berlin, J. Katzenelson, W. McAllister, G. Rozas, G. J. Sussman, and Jack Wisdom, International Journal of High-Speed Electronics, 3, no. 3, pp. 337--361, 1992.
  • ``Intelligence in Scientific Computing,'' Hal Abelson, M. Eisenberg, M. Halfant, J. Katzenelson, E. Sacks, G.J. Sussman, J. Wisdom, K. Yip, CACM, 32, no. 5, May 1989.
  • ``The Dynamicist's Workbench I: Automatic preparation of numerical experiments,'' Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, in Symbolic Computation: Applications to Scientific Computing, R. Grossman (ed.), Frontiers in Applied Mathematics, vol. 5, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadephia, 1989.
  • ``Lisp: a Language for Stratified Design,'' Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, Byte Magazine, February 1988, pp. 207--218.
  • ``The Lisp Experience,'' Hal Abelson, Matthew Halfant, Jacob Katzenelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, Annual Review of Computer Science, 3, 1988, pp. 167--195.
  • ``Abstraction in Numerical Methods,'' Matthew Halfant and Gerald Jay Sussman, Proc. ACM Conference on Lisp and Functional Programming, 1988.
  • ``Advanced Computing for Science,'' Piet Hut and Gerald Jay Sussman, Scientific American, 255, no. 10, October 1987.
  • ``Numerical evidence that the motion of Pluto is chaotic,'' Gerald Jay Sussman and Jack Wisdom, in Science, 241, 22 July 1988.
  • ``The Outer Solar System for 200 Million Years,'' James Applegate, M. Douglas, Y. Gursel, Gerald Jay Sussman, Jack Wisdom, Astronomical Journal, 92, pp 176-194, July 1986, reprinted in Lecture Notes in Physics #267 -- Use of supercomputers in stellar dynamics, Springer Verlag, 1986.
  • ``A Digital Orrery,'' James Applegate, M. Douglas, Y. Gursel, P Hunter, C. Seitz, Gerald Jay Sussman, in IEEE Transactions on Computers, C-34, No. 9, pp. 822-831, September 1985, reprinted in Lecture Notes in Physics #267 -- Use of supercomputers in stellar dynamics, Springer Verlag, 1986.
  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Hal Abelson, Gerald Jay Sussman and Julie Sussman, MIT Press and McGraw-Hill, 1985, second edition 1996, (published translations in French, Japanese, and German).
  • ``A Model of the Radio-Continuum Filaments in the Galactic Center,'' P.J. Quinn and Gerald Jay Sussman, Astrophysics Journal, 288, No.1, pp. 377-384, January 1985.
  • ``The Best Length for a Mainspring,'' Gerald Jay Sussman with Julie Sussman, Newsletter of the Massachusetts Watchmaker's Association, pp. 8-11, June 1991.


  • New York Academy of Sciences: Fellow (2004)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science: Fellow (2004)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: Fellow (2002)
  • National Academy of Engineering: Member (2000)
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Fellow (1996)
  • Association for Computing Machinery: Fellow (1994)
  • MIT EECS: Junior Bose Teaching Award (1992)
  • Association for Computing Machinery: Karl V. Karlstrom (1991)
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence : Fellow (1990)
  • International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence: Computers and Thought Award (1981)