George E. Collins, a researcher who contributed to the early fame of the Computer Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died in Madison on November 21, 2017. He was born January 10, 1928 near Stuart, Iowa, and served in the U.S. Navy from 1945-47. The G.I. Bill allowed him to attend the University of Iowa, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951 and a master's in 1952. He received his Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Cornell in 1955, supervised by Barkley Rosser.
After working at IBM, he joined UW-Madison in 1966 and was on the faculty until 1986, serving as department chair from 1970-1972.
He then held faculty positions at Ohio State, RISC-Linz (Austria), Delaware and North Carolina State. Even after formally retiring from academia, he continued to work and advise students. His publication career would have spanned the lifetime of many others: 1954 through 2017.
Collins was one of the founders of computer algebra. Anyone who uses a modern commercial system, such as Maple or Mathematica, is relying on his fundamental work. Within computer science, he gained fame for the standard reference count algorithm to manage linked data, for detailed and accurate analyses of the running times of important algorithms to manipulate symbolic expressions (many invented by him), and for a method for the decision problem over the reals having essentially optimal complexity. He also created important software, which lives on today as SACLIB and QEPCAD. In recognition of these and other accomplishments, he was named a Fellow of the ACM in 2004.
He is survived by three daughters, two grandsons and one granddaughter.
He is also the academic "father" to 15 Ph.D. students, who collectively have 85 other descendants.
--written by Prof. Eric Bach (with help from Bob Caviness, Cindy Collins and Dave Saunders)