In Memoriam: Noah Prywes, 1925-2020

Penn Engineering mourns the death of Professor Emeritus Noah S. Prywes, pioneering researcher in the field of computer science and accomplished teacher and mentor, who passed away on September 21, 2020.

Dr. Prywes was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1925. He immigrated with his family to pre-state Israel in 1933 and later attended the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to study Electrical Engineering. He moved to the United States for graduate school, first studying at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and then Harvard University where he obtained a Ph.D. in Applied Physics in 1954 (notably, this is before there were departments of Computer Science).

Dr. Prywes first worked on early electronic computers at Univac in the 1950s, leading the computing unit for the LARC computer, which was one of the world’s first supercomputers.

In 1958 he took a position on the faculty of The Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science for 38 years. Dr. Prywes’ early doctoral students were some of the first to receive doctoral degrees from a department of Computer Science.

Dr. Prywes was a pioneer in many of the most significant waves of computer technology over the past half century. In the 1960s he created Multi-List, one of the first relational database management systems. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he advanced and commercialized timesharing, the predecessor to today’s cloud computing. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was at the forefront of automatic programming, nonprocedural specification systems and reverse engineering, and the application of these technologies to parallel and distributed computing. In the early 2000s, he developed innovative speech technology for use in telephony. Dr. Prywes applied his technology through several businesses to a wide range of domains, from early automated payroll systems to financial reporting for Wall Street banks as well as in scientific computing and real-time systems for aerospace and the military, particularly Naval systems. Dr. Prywes published prolifically, was awarded numerous patents, and was a Fellow of the IEEE.

Dr. Prywes is survived by his wife of 67 years, Dr. Ruth W. Prywes; three sons, Menahem, Daniel and Ron Prywes; and seven grandchildren.