Peter T. Kirstein

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Peter Kirstein
Peter Thomas Kirschstein

(1933-06-20)20 June 1933
Berlin, Germany
Died8 January 2020(2020-01-08) (aged 86)
London, England
EducationHighgate School
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (BA)
Stanford University (MS, PhD)
Scientific career
General Electric
University College London
ThesisCurvilinear space-charge flow with applications to electron guns (1957)
Doctoral advisorGordon S. Kino
Marvin Chodorow[1]
Doctoral studentsJon Crowcroft[2][1] Edit this at Wikidata

Peter Thomas Kirstein CBE FREng DFBCS FIET FInstP ( Kirschstein; 20 June 1933 – 8 January 2020) was a British computer scientist who played a role in the creation of the Internet. He made the first internetworking connection on the ARPANET in 1973, by providing a link to British academic networks, and was instrumental in defining and implementing TCP/IP alongside Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn.

Kirstein is often recognized as the "father of the European Internet".[3][4]

Education and early life[edit]

Kirstein was born on 20 June 1933 in Berlin, Germany, the son of Eleanor (Jacobsohn) and Walter Kirschstein.[5] His parents were dentists, and his father was awarded the Iron Cross during WWI. His family was Jewish and his mother had British citizenship from being born in London, so, fearing for their safety in Nazi governed-Germany the family immigrated to the UK in 1937.[5]

He was educated at Highgate School in North London,[6] received a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Cambridge in 1954, an MSc and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University (in 1955 and 1957, respectively)[1] and a Doctor of Science (DSc) in engineering from the University of London in 1970.[citation needed]

Career and research[edit]

He was a member of the staff at CERN from 1959 to 1963. He did research for General Electric at Zurich from 1963 to 1967. He was a professor at the University of London Institute of Computer Science (ICS) from 1970 to 1973. After that, he joined the faculty at the University College London in 1973, serving as the first head of the computer science department from 1980 to 1994.[7] He supervised Jon Crowcroft.[2][1] Kirstein set up Queen Elizabeth's first official email message in 1976.[8][9]

Internet development[edit]

Kirstein's research group at University College London was one of the two original international connections on the ARPANET in 1973, alongside Norwegian Seismic Array (NORSAR).[10][11][12] UCL thereafter provided a gateway between the ARPANET and British academic networks which was the first international heterogeneous resource sharing network.[13]

Research led by Bob Kahn at DARPA and Vint Cerf at Stanford University and later DARPA resulted in the formulation of the Transmission Control Program (TCP),[14] with its RFC 675 specification written by Cerf with Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine in December 1974. The following year, testing began through concurrent implementations at Stanford, BBN and University College London.[15] The ARPANET connection to UCL later grew into the trans-Atlantic SATNET. A three-way internetworking experiment linking UCL, via SATNET, with nodes in the ARPANET, and with a mobile vehicle in PRNET took place in 1977.

His research group at UCL played a significant role in the very earliest experimental work on what became the TCP/IP.[16][17] In 1978, early in the development of the TCP/IP, Kirstein co-authored (with Vint Cerf) one of the most significant early technical papers on the internetworking concept.[18] He chaired the International Cooperation Board (ICB), formed by Cerf in 1979, to coordinate activities to develop packet satellite research.[16][19] UCL adopted TCP/IP in November 1982, ahead of the ARPANET, becoming one of the first nodes on the Internet.[20][21]

In early 1983, Kirstein chaired the International Collaboration Board, which involved six NATO countries, served on the Networking Panel of the NATO Science Committee (serving as chair in 2001), and served on Advisory Committees for the Australian Research Council, the Canadian Department of Communications, the German GMD, and the Indian Education and Research Network (ERNET) Project.[22] He led the Silk Project, which provides satellite-based Internet access to the Newly Independent States in the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.[22]

Awards and honours[edit]

Kirstein was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his work on the Internet.[3] He was also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng), a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. He received the SIGCOMM Award in 1999 for "contributions to the practical understanding of large-scale networks through the deployment of international testbeds", and the Postel Award in 2003, as well as various other awards for his contributions to the development of the Internet internationally. He was also elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2009 for contributions to computer networking and for leadership in bringing the Internet to Europe.[23]

In 2012 Kirstein was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.[24] In 2015 he was awarded the prestigious Marconi Prize.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Kirstein died from a brain tumour on the morning of 8 January 2020 while in his home. Shortly after his death, Steve Hailes, Head of Department for UCL Computer Science, wrote about him:

"Peter was very widely recognised as a pioneer of the Internet and has many honours to his name [...] Much of this was undoubtedly down to an incredibly logical mind, coupled with a level of interest, vision and determination that saw him retire only late last year at the age of 86. [...] Peter was also deeply empathetic and sensitive: he was both gentleman and a gentle man, he was a source of encouragement and sage advice, he was persuasive, open-minded, fair and never afraid to learn something new or to admit that he didn't know."[25][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Peter T. Kirstein at the Mathematics Genealogy Project Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ a b Crowcroft, Jonathan Andrew (1993). Lightweight protocols for distributed systems. (PhD thesis). University of London. OCLC 940339238. EThOS Open access icon
  3. ^ a b c "Peter Kirstein to receive Marconi Prize". Marconi Society. Archived from the original on 1 July 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  4. ^ UCL (22 August 2019). "Father of the European internet". Made at UCL. Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  5. ^ a b c Hafner, Katie (8 January 2020). "Peter Kirstein, Father of the European Internet, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  6. ^ Highgate School Register 7th Edn 1833–1988, Ed. Patrick Hughes & Ian F Davies 1989
  7. ^ "Official Biography: Peter Kirstein". Internet Hall of Fame. The Internet Society. Retrieved 12 January 2023.
  8. ^ "Man who helped the Queen send her first email dies". BBC News. 10 February 2020. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  9. ^ Cade Metz (25 December 2012). "How the Queen of England Beat Everyone to the Internet". Wired. Archived from the original on 19 July 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  10. ^ Brown, Ian, ed. (2013). Research handbook on governance of the Internet. Edward Elgar. p. 7. ISBN 978-1849805049.
  11. ^ "30 years of the international internet". 19 November 2003. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  12. ^ "UCL marks 30 years of e-networking". Times Higher Education (THE). 21 November 2003. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  13. ^ Kirstein, P.T. (1999). "Early experiences with the Arpanet and Internet in the United Kingdom" (PDF). IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 21 (1): 38–44. doi:10.1109/85.759368. ISSN 1934-1547. S2CID 1558618. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 February 2020.
  14. ^ Cerf, V.; Kahn, R. (1974). "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" (PDF). IEEE Transactions on Communications. 22 (5): 637–648. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/TCOM.1974.1092259. ISSN 1558-0857. The authors wish to thank a number of colleagues for helpful comments during early discussions of international network protocols, especially R. Metcalfe, R. Scantlebury, D. Walden, and H. Zimmerman; D. Davies and L. Pouzin who constructively commented on the fragmentation and accounting issues; and S. Crocker who commented on the creation and destruction of associations.
  15. ^ by Vinton Cerf, as told to Bernard Aboba (1993). "How the Internet Came to Be". Archived from the original on 26 September 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017. We began doing concurrent implementations at Stanford, BBN, and University College London. So effort at developing the Internet protocols was international from the beginning. ... Mar '82 - Norway leaves the ARPANET and become an Internet connection via TCP/IP over SATNET. Nov '82 - UCL leaves the ARPANET and becomes an Internet connection.
  16. ^ a b "Brief History of the Internet" (PDF). Internet Society. 1997. pp. 8, 13.
  17. ^ Jon, Postel (18 August 1977). "1.4.1 INTERNET Meeting Notes".
  18. ^ Cerf, V. G.; Kirstein, P. T. (1978). "Issues in packet-network interconnection". Proceedings of the IEEE. 66 (11): 1386. doi:10.1109/PROC.1978.11147. S2CID 27658511.
  19. ^ Moschovitis 1999, p. 104
  20. ^ M. Ziewitz & I. Brown (2013). Research Handbook on Governance of the Internet. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-1849805049. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  21. ^ Martin, Olivier (2012). The "Hidden" Prehistory of European Research Networking. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1466938724.
  22. ^ a b "Peter T. Kirstein recognized with the Internet Society's Postel Award". Internet Society. 16 July 2003. Retrieved 27 February 2024.
  23. ^ "Dr. Peter T. Kirstein". NAE Website. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  24. ^ 2012 Inductees Archived 13 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Internet Hall of Fame website. Retrieved 24 April 2012
  25. ^ Fisher, Lawrence M. "In Memoriam Peter T. Kirstein: 1933-2020". Retrieved 10 January 2020.


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