CS professor emeritus Saburo Muroga leaves legacy as researcher and mentor

12/16/2009 5:08:00 PM

University of Illinois computer science professor emeritus Saburo Muroga died on December 9, 2009, following a long illness. Muroga was one of Japan’s computer pioneers and a globally significant leader in the extensive field of information processing, and he taught and mentored generations of computer science researchers.

Saburo Muroga
Saburo Muroga
Muroga was a pioneer in threshold logic, and was the author of the classic book on the topic Threshold Logic and Its Applications, published in 1971.  The book enjoyed a renewed interest in recent years, as researchers of neural networks recognized its relevance to their field as well.

Muroga’s research in threshold logic was directed at minimizing the complexity of networks that would still be able to support high-level performance by, for example, minimizing the number of logic gates, interconnections among gates, or number of levels in a logic circuit. His revolutionary thinking led also to the creation of the "transduction method," representing a new method for simplifying logic circuits based on permissible functions. The transduction method was adopted by major CAD companies and is now considered an industry standard.

Muroga also published widely on improving design automation using mathematical approaches and computer-aided design of VLSI chips.

In addition to his revolutionary research, Muroga was well-known for his mentorship of students. Many of his former students have had highly successful careers in industry, serving as executives and chief executives at companies including Dell Computer, Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Toshiba, United Microelectronics, and more. 

His legacy as a mentor lives on in the department through two endowed gifts: the Saburo Muroga Endowed Fellowship, established by former student Shigenori Matsushita and others, and the Michael Faiman and Saburo Muroga Professorship, established by former student Doug MacGregor.

Born in 1925 in Numazu, Japan, Muroga received his Gakushi degree, the highest conferred at that time, from the University of Tokyo in 1947. He was awarded a PhD degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1958, based on papers he had published demonstrating his expertise in the field.

Muroga garnered international fame early on in his career when he was able to calculate Channel Capacity, a core concept of C.E. Shannon’s information theory that Shannon concluded would be difficult to calculate.

In 1953, Muroga participated in a summer research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supported by a Fulbright grant. While there, he began research into error-checking codes, and spent 6 months at the University of Illinois, working on the ILLIAC computer, the first and only big computer available for education at the time. According to the Japanese Computer Museum, when Muroga returned to Japan, he was a celebrity--the first Japanese scientist who had ever used a big computer.

Muroga immediately started to promote the basic concepts of computer technology in Japan. It was there that he directed the design, construction, and operation of Japan’s first large-scale computer, MUSASINO-1, based on the ILLIAC.

Muroga joined the computer science faculty at the University of Illinois in 1964. While initially he planned to spend only three years at Illinois before returning to Japan, in fact, he remained at the university teaching and conducting research for 38 years until his retirement in 2002.

In 2004, Muroga was honored by his homeland, receiving the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Office of the Emperor. His award, the “Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon” was given in recognition of his contributions to the area of information processing, and to the industry of computing in Japan.

He is survived by his wife, Yoko Muroga, his sons and daughter-in-law, Eisuke Muroga of San Francisco, Kenji Muroga and Julie Challis of London, his daughters and son-in-law, Lisa Branum of El Cerrito, Edith and Guy Morrow of Albany, California, and his grandchildren, Kaia and Nick Morrow. A private memorial service will be held at a later date in Japan.

More information about the life and career of Saburo Muroga may be found at the Japanese Computer Museum, or the Muroga-mura and Muroga Family History website maintained by family friends.

Remembrances about his life and career can be posted to the Remembering Saburo Muroga blog.

Donations in Professor Muroga’s honor may be made to the Saburo Muroga Endowed Fellowship in Computer Science at the University of Illinois. Checks may be made payable to the University of Illinois Foundation with reference to the fellowship, and mailed to:

University of Illinois Foundation
1305 West Green Street, MC-386
Urbana, IL 61801