John Richard Nickolls
Resident of Los Altos
Family and friends gathered September 27 at Shoup Garden House to celebrate the life of John Richard Nickolls, who passed away in Los Altos, California on August 13, 2011 after a courageous battle against cancer. He was born on March 6, 1950 to Kenneth and Kathryn Nickolls and grew up in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. He earned a BS with High Honors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1972 and a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering with Computer Science minor from Stanford University in 1977.
John had a keen and inquisitive mind. He was admired for his no-excuses work ethic, the passionate defense of his convictions and the patience and generosity that made him a good mentor. A creative and prolific innovator, John leaves a singular legacy of professional achievement through which he made significant contributions to the computing world as he developed parallel computing architecture and programmable parallel platforms. John was a co-founder of Picture Element Limited in 1981 and MasPar Computer in 1988. He served as Vice President for Architecture and Software at Sun Microsystems and at Silicon Spice before going to NVIDIA in 2003 to lead the development of their nascent GPU computing effort. At NVIDIA, John was known for his great technical instincts and vision. John's efforts culminated with his pivotal role in developing NVIDIA's GPU chip and CUDA. The visionary work of John and his team will continue to have great impact by bringing the extraordinary parallel computing power of GPUs to diverse fields.
John approached everything in his life with focus, intensity and a drive for perfection. He had a refined palate, an artist's eye and a musician's ear. He readily shared his appreciation of good food and wine with friends and family and was a founding member of the Wine Group with No Name. He loved the outdoors and was a superb photographer and a life-long backpacker. An expert skier, he was fluid and graceful in the bumps. He also enjoyed building model railroads and was a long-time member of the Silicon Valley Lines, an HO scale model railroad club.
John is survived by his wife, Kathleen and his son, Alec, a neuroscience graduate student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. John also leaves his sister, Judy, and her husband Michael Schoonmaker of Evergreen, Colorado and their three daughters Maia, Kirsten and Erika. John was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Steven. NVIDIA has established a scholarship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in John's honor. Donations may be made to the University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 West Green Street, MC-386, Urbana, IL 61801 specify the fund name, John Nickolls - 340912.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Sep. 29, 2011.