Steven G. Parker, University of Utah alumnus, faculty member, and Vice President of Professional Graphics at NVidia, passed away on May 2, 2024. He was 55 years old. 

Though he was unable to attend due to illness, Parker had been awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Utah Commencement Ceremony earlier that day. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Richard B. Brown, H. E. Thomas Presidential Endowed Dean of Price Engineering, described Parker as “one of the most talented computer science researchers in the world.”

Steven G. Parker
Steven G. Parker

Despite never graduating high school, Parker’s ACT scores earned him admittance to the University of Oklahoma, his home state. His natural aptitude in electrical engineering — and interest in computer graphics — led him to the University of Utah, where he pursued both master’s and then doctoral degrees, graduating in 1999.   

Parker’s research interests in complex visualizations were brought to life within the University’s Center for the Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions (C-SAFE), a project supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative that aimed to better model and predict these chaotic events.  

Parker’s work in this area earned him numerous professional accolades as he continued to advance fundamental computer graphics techniques in service of more accurate visualizations. Key among these was “ray-tracing,” which models the path light takes from a source to the user’s perspective after bouncing off of three-dimensional objects in their field of view. 

While the basic math behind ray-tracing was understood by Renaissance artists, Parker and his colleagues took advantage of the U’s burgeoning computational capacity to develop the first interactive ray-tracing simulation. With the path of light rays calculated in real time, Parker’s techniques allowed for simulations in which users could move their perspectives, getting a more photorealistic three-dimensional representation with dynamic lighting effects. 

In addition to more useful research simulations, this innovation in ray-tracing was revolutionary within the entertainment industry. In 2005, Parker had established the U’s Center for Interactive Ray-Tracing and Photo Realistic Visualization, which produced a spin-off company known as RayScale. NVIDIA Inc. acquired the company in 2008 and set-up a NVIDIA Research Center in Utah, with Parker as director.

Although no longer on the U faculty, Parker maintained his affiliation with the U, serving on the Engineering National Advisory Council for six years and providing influential support where and when needed by the college. He and his wife, MeriAnn, have made major donations to support the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and the John and Marcia Price Computing and Engineering Building.

“His dedication to pushing the boundaries of technology resonate with the university’s vision of making a positive impact on society through education and research and aligns with the university’s ethos of innovation,” said Brown.

The Steven G. Parker Memorial Scholarship has been established in his name.