Malcolm Sabin: The 2010 Pierre Bézier Award Recipient
Like Pierre Bézier himself, Malcolm Sabin was a pioneer of Computer Aided Design (CAD). During the late 1960s and early 1970’s, he played a leading role in developing a CAD system called Numerical Master Geometry (NMG) at the British Aircraft Corporation, a forerunner of today’s EADS and Airbus companies. It clearly demonstrated the practical benefits to be obtained by using such technology, which in turn accelerated the uptake of CAD as a useful tool in industry. Although this was an in-house system, various aspects of its operation surfaced in several of Sabin’s technical reports, covering such topics as patch continuity conditions, parametric surface interrogation, non-rectangular patches, offset surfaces, B-spline interpolation over triangular lattices, the use of potential surfaces for numerical geometry, and convolution of regions. These and many other ideas went on to become mainstream topics for academic investigation. His summary of some of these ideas plus further investigations led to a candidate’s degree at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
His next major role was to work at the CAD Centre in Cambridge, as an Executive Consultant for the Government, advising them on funding CAD research in the UK. He ensured that the money was well spent on significant and useful projects, helping to establish the UK’s leading position in boundary representation modelling. In practice, his role went well beyond its notional decision making aspect, and in many cases he took an active interest in these projects, generously helping the researchers with the benefits of his insight and experience. He has always fostered a sound balance between solving real industrial problems, and methods with strong theoretical foundations. His input undoubtedly helped to strengthen the quality and relevance of much of the UK research being done at that time.
Since then he has been in turn a Director of FEGS, known for its finite element mesh generation and mesh repair solutions, and then of Numerical Geometry Ltd., Sabin’s own consultancy company. At the same time he has also had spells as a visiting Professor at Liverpool University, and as an Industrial Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University many people will have presumed instead, that he was a full time academic, as his published output has been both prolific and significant. His collaborators have ranged widely, from other leading experts to PhD students, demonstrating the far reaching influence his thinking has had on the field. His work at FEGS led to several important papers on hexahedral mesh generation, the key problem in converting CAD models to a representation suitable for finite element analysis, as well as a PhD thesis on B-spline elements for finite elements – undoubtedly solid modelling’s most over-qualified PhD student ever!
A major theme of Sabin’s research has been subdivision surfaces, starting with his classic work on behaviour of recursive division surfaces near extraordinary points. This was written in 1978, well ahead of the mainstream interest in recursive subdivision surfaces, and brought techniques of eigenanalysis to bear on the problem. A further paper, 20 years later, on non-uniform recursive division surfaces is also considered a classic. His many other distinguished contributions on recursive subdivision surfaces include co-authorship of a SIGGRAPH paper in 2009 on NURBS compatible subdivision.
Sabin’s insight into a wide range of geometry and geometric modelling has enabled him to make significant contributions on many topics. For example, the area of scattered data interpolation is represented by his early work on piecewise quadratic approximations on triangles, underlying which is an appropriate partitioning of a triangle into sub-triangles. This has found use in many different applications. He has also written several influential surveys which have not only served to summarise the state of knowledge at a given point, but also to point out what was not known, and these have acted to spur many productive lines of research.
Ultimately, this award has been made for a long career of high achievement from many points of view: pioneering research in a new field, helping to steer development of that field, with encouragement, support, and stimulation for many junior researchers, and most of all, multiple lasting and significant contributions over a span of more than 40 years, many of which are still relevant and useful long after they first appeared.