Hall of Fame 2016

Mary C. Whitton

Ms. Mary C. Whitton made a life-changing pivot in 1976 when she left teaching middle-school math and entered NC State to study EE and computer graphics technology. Drawing on her two degrees from NC State, Master of Science ECE (1984) and Master of Science Guidance and Personnel Services (1974), Ms. Whitton has brought to her career a unique combination of system engineering and human factors expertise, along with managerial skills developed in industry and professional organizations.

Ms. Whitton was co-founder of two companies—Ikonas Graphics Systems (1978) and Trancept Systems (1986)—that produced leading-edge user-programmable hardware and software. The Ikonas and Trancept products were the direct predecessors of today’s General Purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs). Ms. Whitton designed the Ikonas Programmable Matrix Multiplier and sold systems into the seismic exploration, 3D medical imaging, remote sensing, computer animation, and scientific modeling and simulation markets. Ikonas and Trancept, respectively, were acquired by Adage, Inc. and Sun Microsystems where Ms. Whitton held Director of Technical Marketing positions.

In 1995, Ms. Whitton joined UNC Chapel Hill where she is Research Professor of Computer Science. Since 1998 she has co-led the Effective Virtual Environments research group investigating how technology, guided by knowledge of human perception, can make virtual reality experiences more effective. While a student, Ms. Whitton was active in the Society of Women Engineers. She is a member of ACM SIGGRAPH and a senior member of ACM and IEEE. She has held leadership roles in ACM including a term on ACM Council representing the 25+ Special Interest Groups (SIGS). She was a member of the SIGGRAPH Executive Committee for ten years, serving as President 1993-1995. For her broad engagement with SIGGRAPH as a technical contributor and leader of the organization, Ms. Whitton received the SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award in 2013.

Really listen to the people who are going to use the hardware and software you build so that you can do your work with an understanding of the task from the customer’s point-of-view.