Statement on the Passing of Raymond S. Tomlinson, Rensselaer Class of 1963

Statements from Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President, and

Dr. James Hendler, Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences on the Passing of Raymond S. Tomlinson, Rensselaer Class of 1963

March 7, 2016 – TROY, N.Y. -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson and Dr. James Hendler, Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences, today commented on the passing of Raymond S. Tomlinson, member of the Rensselaer Class of 1963.

Mr. Tomlinson invented email as an engineer for Bolt Beranek and Newman in 1971. While working on a contract to create ARPANET, a communication network that would allow scientists and researchers to share each other's computer facilities, he hit on the idea to merge an intra-machine message program with another program developed for transferring files among ARPANET computers. Unforeseen at the beginning of ARPANET, Tomlinson's creation of email became the future Internet's most popular application.

“Raymond Tomlinson fundamentally changed the way that the world communicates,” said Dr. Jackson. “With a stroke of a key, we can now speak directly and instantaneously to friends, family, colleagues and business partners across borders, states, countries and oceans.  He invented email, and he was the first to use the @ symbol to communicate – a symbol that is foundational for nearly all of the social networking platforms we use today. We now rely on his invention to communicate with our families and our colleagues, to coordinate informal meetings and summits of world leaders, to forge multi-billion dollar deals and to ratify multi-national agreements to reduce nuclear arsenals and combat climate change. The Rensselaer community is saddened by the loss of Raymond Tomlinson, and we are grateful for the incredible contributions that he made to the world.”

Over the course of his career, Tomlinson received many awards and honors. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame. That same year he received a Webby Award from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for lifetime achievement. In 2002, Discover Magazine awarded him its Innovation Award. In 2011 he was listed fourth in the MIT 150 list of the top 150 innovators and ideas from MIT. And, in 2012, Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.

“Most people today don’t realize that email was invented long before the Web browser, the personal computer, Google, the cell phone, and most of the other computing innovations we take so much for granted today,” said Dr. Hendler. “When Ray Tomlinson came up with the idea that people could communicate using their machines, there were less than twenty computers connected in what was then the world’s largest computer network. The fact that he designed the system in such a way that it was able to scale to the literally billions of users on today’s Internet demonstrates what a visionary he was. He’s a perfect example of how Rensselaer students learn to think big and take on the world-changing challenges that underlie the immediate problems they are asked to explore.”

Dr. Jackson and Dr. Hendler are available to speak to media about the significant contributions that Ray Tomlinson made to his field. Interviews can be scheduled by calling the communications office at 518-276-8432.