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Issue 474, 3 December 2001

Professor Stanley Openshaw

Stan Openshaw retired from the University in 2000 after suffering a disabling stroke in 1999, following a glittering career of achievement in the application of quantitative (particularly computational) methods to geographical problems. In the Centre of Computational Geography (CCG), which he set up, he left behind a group of dedicated researchers who continue to develop his pioneering ideas in fields such as cluster detection, the application of artificial intelligence and life techniques and zone design. His algorithm for zone design (the optimal aggregation of small areas to zones fitted for analysis purposes) is currently being employed in the creation of output areas from the 2001 Census of Population.

Born in 1946, Stanley Openshaw graduated with a First Class Honours BA degree in Geography from the University of Newcastle in 1968 and followed this with a PhD in 1974, gained while working as a Planning Officer for Durham County Council. He returned to the University as a lecturer in the Department of Town and Country Planning in 1974, and then moved to Geography in 1982. He was awarded a Personal Chair in Quantitative Geography in 1989 and migrated to the Chair of Human Geography at the University of Leeds in 1992. Stan Openshaw's research productivity was prodigious: he published 11 books, 114 book chapters, 140 papers in refereed journals, 48 contributions to conference proceedings and 69 departmental papers. More important than the volume of his scientific output was its originality: he tackled hard problems in geographical analysis using computer algorithms in new ways. He recognised the importance of the information explosion of the computer age and wanted geographers to be at the heart of making sense of it. He never shirked the difficulties posed by the volumes of data being generated. While official statisticians were content with classifying the country’s 459 districts and 11,000 wards, Stan tackled the problem of classifying the socio-economic attributes of 130,000 census collection areas. Recent research involved working with AI and ALife techniques and parallel processing strategies with colleagues. He was one of very few geographers or social scientists active in these hard science fields, publishing Artificial Intelligence in Geography in 1997 with Christine Openshaw and High Performance Computing and the Art of Parallel Programming in 2000 with Ian Turton, his collaborator in the 1990s. His innovative and iconoclastic mind will be sorely missed by social science researchers, particularly those who will be working with the gigabytes of data to be produced from the 2001 Census.

Since his stroke he has been lovingly cared for by his wife Christine and visited frequently by his young CCG researchers. Though disabled, he is still cheerful and enjoys the company of visitors at his Sheffield home.

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