Cleve Moler

Cleve Moler

2017 Fellow

For his creation and development of the MATLAB numerical computing environment and programming language


Cleve B. Moler was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1939. He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Caltech in 1961 and a PhD in mathematics from Stanford University in 1965. He was a student of George Forsythe at Stanford and had a temporary appointment as an instructor in the new Computer Science Department.

Moler’s first computer programming experience involved a Burroughs 205 Datatron computer at Caltech in 1959, before the system even had a compiler. Summer jobs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1961 and 1962 introduced him to FORTRAN.

After a postdoc year at the ETH in Zurich, Moler joined the faculty of mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1966. This began a 20-year academic career at the University of Michigan, the University of New Mexico, and Stanford. Among his 16 PhD students are 11 who went on to academic careers at institutions, including Cornell, Yale, the University of Texas, and the University of Tennessee. He served as chairman of computer science at New Mexico in the 1980s.

In the 1970s, Moler was a co-author of LINPACK and EISPACK, widely used FORTRAN subroutine libraries for matrix computation. He wanted students to be able to access these packages without writing FORTRAN programs, so he wrote the first version of MATLAB—Matrix Laboratory—as a simple, interactive matrix calculator. The system’s mathematics and array syntax turned out to be useful in other science and engineering fields, which Moler never anticipated.

In 1984 Jack Little rewrote and enhanced MATLAB, making it available on the new IBM PC, and he and Moler founded MathWorks to commercialize the result.

In 2016 MATLAB was 14th in the IEEE Spectrum’s ranking of programming languages. MathWorks has 4,000 employees in two dozen cities worldwide. Moler serves as founder and chief mathematician at the company. Moler is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering and has won numerous awards including the IEEE John von Neumann medal, the IEEE-Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award and Sidney Fernbach Award and two awards from SIAM, the main professional society for numerical analysis.