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Obituary: Dietmar Erwin († 30 March 2018)

Photo Dietmar ErwinDietmar Erwin in front of the supercomputer JUGENE in 2009
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Esteemed Mrs. Erwin, dear Erwin family, dear guests of mourning,

Honoré de Balzac has coined the sentence: "The philanthropist uncloaks plans, expresses ideas, entrusts their execution to man, silence, work, instructions, silent and powerless things.”

Dietmar Erwin was such a philanthropist of classical character: he brought complex plans to maturity, he willingly passed on many good ideas, he promoted young employees with joy and entrusted them with important and difficult tasks; he himself was calmly and modestly. He saw in his work a part of the fulfillment of life and always accepted assignments in a spirit of helpfulness, he believed in the quiet effect of the good example and small, only seemingly inconspicuous, powerless steps. That's how a lot of good things have come to life.

After his studies at the renowned Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt, which he graduated with distinction in 1968, Dietmar Erwin worked as a scientist at the University of Mainz for five years. His competence in the field of "numerical solutions of differential equations", a field that was still in its pioneering stage at the time, made IBM pay attention in the USA, and he was asked to spend a year at the IBM Philadelphia Scientific Center, which was decisive for his personal development and his professional career.

His scientific career led him in 1974 to the then leading Central Institute for Applied Mathematics at the Research Centre Jülich, today's "Jülich Supercomputing Center". Under the leadership of our highly respected and esteemed then head of the institute, Professor Friedel Hoßfeld, he was entrusted with the management of the department "Mainframe Operating Systems" in October, later the department “Supercomputer Systems”, the central task at the center. His closeness to the head of the institute, based on friendship, was certainly one of the main reasons why the institute was able to develop such a pronounced family relationship, which it has maintained to this day.

Dietmar Erwin was able to lead by natural authority in an informal manner, a characteristic that has distinguished him for many years as a driving force in the management team and as president of the IBM user group SHARE. His internationality predestined him to assume leading functions in the acquisition and implementation of projects of the European Union, which became increasingly important for the development of the Research Centre Jülich from the 1990s.

Dietmar Erwin has developed into a highly respected and broadly experienced science manager in various major EU projects such as EUROGRID, UniGrids and in particular DEISA, a first pan-European initiative of a network of supercomputers.

Even though Dietmar Erwin retired at the end of 2005, I was able to experience him for two years as an exemplary department head and charismatic role model - and I learned a lot from him myself -, I asked him at the end of 2006 to become active again for the JSC with his advice. The chair of the board himself, Professor Bachem, has made him his advisor on European issues. At that time we took the first important steps in the development of the European supercomputer infrastructure PRACE, the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe. I must admit that we were rather helpless at the time, and without Dietmar Erwin, I say without exaggeration, this unique infrastructure, so important for Europe, would not exist today in its convincing implementation.

I see this activity, in which Dietmar Erwin played such an important role, as a decisive step into the future of the Research Centre Jülich as a whole. The entry into the European scientific landscape at that time became the current basis for the increasing European engagement of Jülich.

Let me quote four contributions from the Internet obituary book, as our European partners and ourselves have experienced the work of Dietmar Erwin:

Dr. Janne Ignatius and Dr. Kimmo Koski from Finnland wrote:
I have known Dietmar since the beginning of this Millennium. His brilliant work directly guided hundreds of colleagues from all over Europe, and indirectly radiated to many more. I remember not that many years ago, when I was first worried how the setup of a very large project could be managed, but became fully peaceful having learned that Dietmar will handle it, from retirement. Dietmar is remembered as a warm and honest, hard-working colleague who was always willing to help you. He was a person who could manage many things at the same time and still keep the logic and explain you the contents. Dietmar always had time for you, even if he was busy.

Prof. Achim Bachem, former chair oft he Jülich Research Centre wrote:
Dietmar Erwin was my advisor and a very efficient and experienced program manager at the time when we built up the PRACE community in Europe. Lot of the success in the starting projects we had at that time was due to the thoughtful work he did for all of us. I loved to work with him, especially his warm-hearted, good-humored way to handle even the most difficult situations and his unlimited readiness to help others most notable the European HPC community. He will be sadly missed. My sincere condolences to his family.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Nominé from CEA France wrote:
I had the opportunity to work with Dietmar in European projects, he was such a driving force, tirelessly coaching younger generations, demanding but devoted watchman of the collective quality of work. His living memory will remain for me as he has always appeared to me: indestructible.

Prof. Michael Resch from the Stuttgart HLRS wrote:
With Dietmar Erwin not only the Jülich Supercomputing Centre but also the German and European HPC have lost a devoted scientist and a true friend. Dietmar Erwin was one of those colleagues who would contribute beyond his outstanding scientific skills devotion, friendship, kindness, and wit. Having spent many meetings and after-meetings with Dietmar Erwin my condolences go to his colleagues in Jülich as well as to his family and friends.

Yes, Dietmar Erwin was a scientist in a leading position, and at the same time he has always remained a scientist of passion. Not only does he leave behind his own important scientific works, his impact goes much further by promoting the research work of many colleagues; not only his, but also their works follow him.

The colleagues of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre and all our partners in Germany and Europe are forever indebted to Dietmar Erwin: for his immense commitment, his absolute loyalty, his positive critical abilities, his joy in supporting young people, and above all his warmth and humanity.

Dear Dietmar Erwin, You will forever be a member of the family of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre!

Prof. Thomas Lippert
Direktor of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre
at Protestant Church of Linnich – April 6, 2018


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