Leon Steinberg

Obituary of Leon Steinberg

Dr. Leon Steinberg, 88, Mathematician and Teacher Dr. Leon Steinberg, a professor of mathematics at Temple University and author of one of the seminal problems in early computer design, died on December 17th, 2019 in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. Dr. Steinberg graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1948, and earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Temple University in 1953. When he was 18 years old, he was recruited for a summer job in the Exterior Ballistics department of the Frankford Arsenal, turning down an offer at the FBI because he preferred ‘to summer’ in Philadelphia. In 1955, he earned a Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics from Brown University and joined the University of Pennsylvania as a teaching assistant. In 1961, he earned his Ph.D. in number theory at Penn under advisor Emil Grosswald. From 1961 until 1996, Dr. Steinberg was a professor in the Department of Mathematics at Temple University, serving as department chair from 1978 until 1982. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in mathematics, as well as the university’s first courses in COBOL and Fortran, which formed the basis for its Department of Computer & Information Sciences. In 1957, Dr. Steinberg joined the Univac division of Sperry Rand, and in 1961 published The Backboard Wiring Problem: A Placement Algorithm, a quadratic assignment problem (QAP) ultimately known as “The Steinberg Wiring Problem” or “ste36a.” Ste36a was based on the design of a Univac computer, and analyzed how to wire together 34 computer components on a 9 by 4 grid using the shortest possible wiring scheme. Dr. Steinberg’s algorithms produced a reasonable, but not exact, solution that Univac used at the time, as computing power was still insufficient to generate an optimal solution. Ste36a became a legendary challenge problem in computational optimization, and efforts to solve it have resulted in significant algorithmic advances applicable to the design of computer chips and present-day project management and scheduling software. In 2001, a professor at the University of Iowa and a researcher at Microsoft Corporation finally solved ste36a on a single Pentium III personal computer, making it one of the longest open problems in computational optimization. Dr. Steinberg remained at Sperry Univac (now Unisys) in various capacities until 1986, including serving as manager of the Applied Mathematics group. Dr. Steinberg enjoyed travel, classical music, a good pun (his first email address was b4descartes@aol.com), and challenging the IRS when he was audited. He is survived by his wife of 54 years (Marcia), his daughter (Allison Rulon-Miller), and his sister (Susan Shenkman). He is pre-deceased by a daughter (Jennifer), a son (Bruce), and his first wife (Phyllis).
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