National Physical Laboratory

A fond farewell to Susan Martin

We wish a fond farewell to one of our longest-serving members of staff, Susan Martin (née Picken), who is retiring this month after nearly 60 years at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

Susan Martin

Figure 1: Brunsviga mechanical calculator
Figure 1: Brunsviga mechanical

Figure 2: ACE at NPL
Figure 2: ACE at NPL

Susan joined NPL's Mathematics Division straight from school in 1957. Alongside her job as a Scientific Assistant, Susan studied for a mathematics degree at the University of London, one day and two evenings a week.

Susan's first work involved preparing tables of figures using a hand-operated desk machine - she still has a Brunsviga mechanical calculator (Figure 1) today! Later, Susan moved on to punched card machines, programming both the DEUCE, one of the world's first automatic electronic digital computers, and its greatly enhanced successor, the ACE, designed by Alan Turing during his time at NPL.

"When I arrived, they were building the full-scale ACE in a room the size of an aircraft hangar," Susan remembers (Figure 2). "I was amused when they talked of hanging chads [partially-punched ballot cards] in the US presidential election in 2000. We were lucky if the engineers allowed us 10 minutes pop-in time to test our programs on the ACE!"

Susan went on to specialise in numerical optimization, developing algorithms and library software with world-leading researchers Prof Walter Murray and Dr Philip Gill. Much of the software developed by Susan has appeared in the optimisation chapter of the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG) Library, the world's largest collection of numerical algorithms, used by tens of thousands of programmers across the globe.

Sven Hammarlang, Honorary Principal Consultant at NAG, said: "We at NAG, especially the old timers like David Sayers and myself, remember Susan very fondly. NAG still has routines in the Library that bear the name Susan Picken [her maiden name]."

Susan then moved to the Materials Group, applying her expertise in numerical optimization to NPL's MTDATA software package, the development of which she still oversees today. MTDATA is used across academia and industry to model a range of material processes, helping users to save energy and reduce pollution and corrosion, and has been licensed to organisations in 30 countries.

"I think I must be the longest-serving programmer in the world," says Susan. "I have always enjoyed working at NPL - interesting work and lovely people."Susan is enormously respected by her colleagues at NPL, acting as an inspiration and mentor to her fellow scientists. Colleague Hugh Davies said: "Somewhere in the world, Susan's code, at the heart of MTDATA, is always running."

Read more about NPL's Mathematics and Materials research.

NPL staff with 25  years' service, circa 2000 (Susan is on the front row, fourth from the right)
NPL staff with 25 years' service, circa 2000 (Susan is on the front row, fourth from the right)

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Last Updated: 19 Sep 2016
Created: 13 Sep 2016


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