David Evans

David Evans
Death date
Associated organizations
Bendix Corporation, University of Utah
IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award


David C. Evans, was born on February 24th, 1924. Evans studied electrical engineering at the University of Utah and earned a doctorate in physics. After earning his degree, Evans went to work for the Bendix Corporation, where he served as a project manager on two of the company's computers, the G15 and the G20, introduced, in 1955 and 1961, respectively. Evans left Bendix to join the computer science department at the University of California at Berkeley, and became the head of the university's work for the Pentagon's Advanced Research Project Agency, known as A.R.P.A.

At that time, the agency was funding a broad range of basic research projects from which grew many of the key innovations of the modern computer industry in personal computing, networking and workstations.

During the 1960's Evans served as chairman of the computer science departments at the University of California at Berkeley and at the University of Utah and was closely associated with an era of pioneering work that paved the way for the modern computer industry.

At Berkeley, Mr. Evans and his students made advances in the area of virtual memory, an important concept in computer science that allows the size of programs and data files to exceed the actual memory size of a computer. He also led a group of students and researchers in the design of a computer that became known as the SDS 940. Brought to market in the mid-1960's by the Xerox Corporation, it was the first commercial time-sharing computer system, enabling a number of computer users to simultaneously use a single computer.

In 1965, James Fletcher, then president of the University of Utah, recruited Mr. Evans to move back to Salt Lake City and create a computer science department.

Three years later, Evans recruited Ivan Sutherland to a faculty position at Utah from Harvard, where after leaving A.R.P.A. he had been conducting research in headmounted display screens for airplane pilots and other applications.

It was in 1968, during a dinner conversation while the two men were on a business consulting trip in Phoenix, that they decided to start Evans & Sutherland Computer. While still maintaining his university positions, Evans had the insight that each individual point in a computer image, a pixel, differs only incrementally from the pixels adjacent to it. By computing only these differences, rather than creating an, entirely new pixel in each instance, a computer can reserve tremendous amounts of processing power and speed for the creation of more complex graphics than would otherwise be possible.

He also led a group working on raster computer graphics, a process where images are generated by computing and displaying them an entire horizontal screen line at a time, which is a popular alternative to the "vector" method, where an electronic beam scans an image onto a screen like pencil would draw a picture on paper.

However, Mr. Evans's greatest contribution may have been the fact that at both Berkeley and Utah, he recruited and taught an extraordinary group of graduate students who went on to groundbreaking careers in computing. Among the best known of his former Utah students are Alan Kay, who later became the leader of a group of researchers at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center credited with many of the ideas underlying the modern personal computer industry Jim Clark, a founder of Silicon Graphics Inc., a maker of advanced, workstations, and the Netscape Communications Corporation, the company that first successfully commercialized the World Wide Web browser; John Warnock, a co-founder of Adobe Systems Inc., whose printing software helped create the desktop publishing industry; Edwin Cat mull, a computer graphics pioneer who cofounded Pixar, the computer animation studio, and Alan Ashton cofounder of the Wordperfect Corporation.

Among Mr. Evans's professional honors was the 1986 IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award and the 1996 Computer World-Smithsonian Award for lifetime achievement.

Evans died on Oct. 3rd, 1998 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.