Professor Ken MacCallum: An appreciation

PROFESSOR Ken MacCallum, was a Glasgow man of such modesty that most of his friends and family were unaware of his vision, impact and world-renowned reputation within the rapidly developing field of computer-aided design and its application to naval engineering.

Having been educated at Hutchesons’ Boys’ Grammar School – where teachers had acceded to his persistent demands to be taught beyond the curriculum – he graduated in 1965 with a first-class honours degree in naval architecture from the University of Glasgow.

He moved to London to work as a Research Officer for the British Ship Research Association, where he was seconded to Imperial College London to explore the revolutionary concept of computer-aided ship design. His studies included a placement at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a secondment to Cambridge University’s mathematics laboratory to study computer graphics.

His work had a considerable influence on the computer-aided design systems that were adopted by British Shipbuilders, and his research into geometric modelling led to his 1970 PhD thesis, The Application of Computer Graphics to Ship Hull Design.

Ken’s brother remembers being shown his computer in Imperial College in the mid 1960s: in a large, high room were rows of rectangular metal boxes, taller than a man, quietly humming. He was extremely proud of it.

He continued to work in London as a Systems Programmer, specifying and developing new software systems for Conversational Software Ltd., a spin-off company from Edinburgh University with a mission to develop and promote the results of research into Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In 1973, he and his wife Jean, and their daughters Linda and Amber, returned to Scotland, settling in Ayr. He continued his research career at the University of Strathclyde as lecturer, then, from 1977, senior lecturer, in the Department of Ship and Marine Technology under the guidance of Professor Chengi Kuo.

He dedicated himself to the personal and academic development of every one of his students, in particular his postgraduates, whom he recruited from all over the world.

Recognising that it was often the first time the students had been so far away from home, he invited them to spend time with his family to ease their homesickness and to encourage their spoken English.

He regularly took students and visiting professors on family outings to nearby Culzean Castle; to walk by the sea, to introduce them to Scottish history, and (often much to their surprise) to play extensive games of hide-and-seek in the surrounding woodlands.

Ken never lost his passion and vision for the application of AI to naval architecture and engineering, and in 1985 he was seconded from his department to establish the Faculty of Engineering’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) Centre, where he became Personal Professor and Director.

The centre brought together expertise in CAD and created a new Masters course in Computer Aided Engineering Design. The course lasted over 30 years, attracting students from all over the world.

In 1989 the Department of Design Manufacture and Engineering Management (DMEM) was established. Ken became its head in 1992, merging many autonomous groups into one coherent department, and creating cross-department courses, particularly at Masters level.

In April 1986, at the inaugural AI in Engineering Problem Solving Conference, Ken and Professor Ram Sriram, were entrusted with forming an editorial board and securing an initial set of papers to launch an international journal entitled Artificial Intelligence in Engineering.

In the late 1980s, when Professor Sriram resigned from his editorial position, Ken continued as sole Editor-in-Chief until 1997. In 2002 the journal’s name was changed to Advanced Engineering Informatics and is still publishing articles to this day.

In 1997 he became Principal and Chief Executive of Bell College of Technology, Hamilton. Despite facing numerous complicated administrative challenges he successfully managed the transformation of Bell College into a Higher Education Institution, undertaking a major restructuring project in 1999, and he was proud to introduce annual graduation and awards ceremonies.

After his instrumental role in instigating the 2007 merger between the University of Paisley, Bell College and other institutions to form the University of the West of Scotland, he retired from Bell in 2004.

In retirement he consulted for DMEM. He embarked on a creative writing course, travelled widely with Jean, played bridge and golf, and dedicated many hours to his striking garden.

His final years were blighted by the onset and development of a devastating form of Parkinson’s, which he endured with his characteristic patience and courage, never losing his Scottishe3 sense of humour.

He died in Creggan Bahn Nursing Home, Ayr, a month before his 77th birthday.

He is survived by his wife and daughters, as well as five grandchildren, and his elder brother, who now lives in Paris.

Warwick MacCallum and Linda Walker