Jim Thomas (visualization)

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James “Jim” J. Thomas (March 26, 1946 – August 6, 2010) was an internationally recognized computer scientist and is considered by many computer scientists to be a visionary and inspiring research and development (R&D) leader [1] in the field of visualization (computer graphics). Professionally, he was a Laboratory Fellow at the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. On July 31, 2009, Thomas retired from his position at PNNL after 33 years. Thomas died on August 6, 2010.


Jim Thomas’ professional career started at General Motors, where he worked in the area of computer-aided graphics and design soon after graduate school in early 1970s. He later returned to his home state of Washington to join the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (now Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [PNNL]) as a computer scientist in 1976. Through the years, he has risen through the ranks from senior scientist, staff scientist, chief scientist, to Laboratory Fellow.

In the 1980s, he was a member of the founding team who conceptualized and developed the core concepts for what is today’s William R. Wiley Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE scientific user facility located at PNNL. In the early 1990s, to address the problem of information overload, Thomas headed a team of information technology (IT) researchers to develop the SPIRE document Visualization (computer graphics) visualization and analytics system. The successor to this groundbreaking system, IN-SPIRE, is still in use today. In the early 2000s, Thomas led and coordinated a team of top scientists and scientific leaders from academia, industry, and government sectors to formally define a new research area, visual analytics. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC) at PNNL in 2004, naming Thomas as its founding Director.

Professional Societies[edit]

Thomas organized the SIGGRAPH conference in 1987, founded and organized the first ACM User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) gathering in 1989, chaired ACM SIGGRAPH from 1989 to 1992, served as editor-in-chief of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications from 2002 to 2006, and chaired the IEEE Visualization conference in 2003. He helped found the IEEE Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) Symposium that began in 2006. Thomas has also served on numerous industry, government, and international advisory boards.


  • 1985: Science Digest's Top 100 Scientific Innovations
  • 1986: R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Award
  • 1989: Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 1996: R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Award
  • 1998: Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 2007: Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • 2009: Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation Homeland Security Award [2]