Alexander Ollongren

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Alexander Ollongren (born 1928) is a professor emeritus at Leiden University.


Alexander Ollongren was born in 1928 on a coffee plantation in Kepahiang, in the South-Western part of Sumatra, Netherlands East Indies. His father Alexander Ollongren (1901–1989) was Russian of Finnish-Swedish descent (family Ållongren i Finland) and his mother Selma Hedwig Adèle Jaeger (1901–2000) was a Dutch-German. The family moved to Java in 1932 and lived in Jokjakarta, Central Java, when the Japanese army occupied the Netherlands East Indies in 1942. In 1945, he was interned and barely survived the Japanese concentration camp of Ngawi in Eastern Java. After the war, he graduated in early 1947 from high school in Batavia (Jakarta) in Western Java. The family stayed six months in Australia in order to recuperate and he considered enrolling at Sydney University, but decided instead to enter Leiden University in The Netherlands – which was the case in 1947.

His university education at Leiden started with undergraduate and graduate studies in mathematics, Hamiltonian mechanics, physics and astronomy and lead to the MSc degree, obtained in 1955. After completing his master's degree, he served almost two years of military service.

In 1958 he started work on his thesis in galactic astronomy supervised by Professor Jan H. Oort and Professor Hendrik C. van de Hulst of the Astronomical Department at Leiden. The research topic was: Three-dimensional Orbital Motions of Stars in the Galaxy. Characterizing orbital stellar motion in a Galaxy could not be done analytically, so a number of sample orbits had to be computed numerically using fast electronic computing machinery. In cooperation with astronomer Dr. Ingrid Torgård (1918–2001) of Lund Observatory in Sweden, the famous, extremely fast electronic computer BESK in Stockholm, was programmed to do the necessary computing. The analysis of the problem together with the computational results and the interpretation of them, earned him in 1962 the PhD in astronomy at Leiden University.

In 1961, the Leiden University Council decided that the university was in need of an institute to operate and manage a fast electronic computer in order to meet computing demands from a wide range of institutions. A computer centre was created as an institute, the central computing institute. A modern transistorized electronic computer, built by the Dutch Company Electrologica, was installed and Dr. Alexander Ollongren was appointed Acting Director of the institute. A year later he became Associate Director of the university computer centre. As demands for computing services were increasing in the university it became evident that the central computing institute would need more powerful computer facilities. After the appointment of Professor G. Zoutendijk, mathematician, as General Director in 1964, switching to an IBM-computer as mainframe was seriously considered and eventually effectuated. In the wake of the new orientation Alexander Ollongren was granted leave of absence.

Invited by Professor D. Brouwer, he became in the period 1965-1967 for a year and a half, a post-doc Visiting Research Member in celestial mechanics and Lecturer mathematics at the well-known Research Center of Celestial Mechanics, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. In the USA he got well acquainted with the programming and use of modern large-size IBM computing equipment. He then returned to the newly created Department of Applied Mathematics at Leiden University, and became in 1968 Lecturer numerical mathematics and computer science, and a year later Associate Professor in theoretical computer science (aspects of programming languages). Another leave was granted in 1971 enabling him to accept for three months the position of Visiting Research Member at the IBM Research Laboratory in Vienna, Austria.

In 1980, Alexander Ollongren’s position in the Department was changed and he became Full Professor in computer science, specializing in the semantics of programming languages. During the same year, he had a sabbatical of a half year spent at the Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence in Linköping University, Sweden. Several years later, the computer science section of the Department became the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS).

Ollongren was pensioned at the age of 65 years. He became Emeritus Professor of Leiden University in November 1993, delivering the public lecture called Vix Famulis Audenda Parat, including an invited speech by ‘Alan Turing’ himself (acted by Professor George Miley, astronomer) in the University’s Auditorium.

Ollongren became a member of several societies in computer science, astronomy (the International Astronomical Union) and astronautics. After his retirement, he became interested in the academic debate on the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI), in the setting of the International Astronautical Academy. In particular, he wrote several studies in the field of interstellar communication with ETI and he developed a universally comprehensible language based on logic for that purpose – a Lingua Cosmica (LINCOS). A major contribution in this field is his book on astrolinguistics, published by Springer, New York in 2013.

He married Gunvor Ulla Marie Lundgren from Sweden in 1965 in Jönköping, and their children are Karin Hildur (Kajsa) Ollongren (1967) and Peter Gunnar Ollongren (1970).


  • Astrolinguistics, Design of a Linguistic System for Interstellar Communication Based on Logic (New York: Springer, 2013) ISBN 978-1-4614-5467-0
  • Definition of programming languages by interpreting automata (London: Academic Press, 1974) ISBN 0-12-525750-3
  • Invitation to ETI at