We mourn the loss of Prof Dr Niklaus Wirth

Digitalisation Further topics 15:26

The Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW mourns the loss of its world-famous member Niklaus Wirth (15.2.1934-1.1.2024). Computer science in Switzerland - and far beyond - owes a great deal to the developer of pioneering programming languages and computer systems and the only German-speaking Turing Award winner to date.

Throughout his life, computer science pioneer Niklaus Wirth was passionate about technology and endeavoured to structure it in a reliable, logical and understandable way. He studied electrical engineering at ETH Zurich and, via the University of Laval (Québec), came to UC Berkeley and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. 

After holding assistant professorships at Stanford and UZH, he was appointed Professor of Computer Science in 1968 and retired in 1999. Subsequently, his scientific research was characterised by stays at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) at Xerox. The focus was on user interfaces, operating systems and object-orientated computer languages. 

Niklaus Wirth's most famous work is probably the Pascal programming language, named after the mathematician Blaise Pascal. It is characterised by its simplicity and logic and is still used today in computer science training. Wirth's Pascal, Modula and Oberon languages served as models for Java and C# (c sharp) in many respects. 

Wirth's “Lilith” workstation, which incorporated parts of Xerox’ “Alto” anticipated many elements of the dawning PC age, proved to be just as enduring. Although Lilith did not become a commercial success, it accelerated academic work at a time when suitable hardware and software was hardly available on the market. In 1984, Wirth was the first (and to this date only) German-speaking computer scientist to receive the ACM Turing Award, which is considered the Nobel Prize for computer science, for his achievements. 
With Niklaus Wirth, the SATW has lost an influential and highly esteemed personality who will be dearly missed. We will honour his memory and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. 
Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW. 

A detailed tribute to Niklaus Wirth's scientific career can be found in the obituary of ETH Zurich