Born in 1958, Kurt Akeley is an award-winning American computer graphics engineer. A pioneer in the field of graphics, Akeley co-founded Silicon Graphics (later known as SGI) in 1982. During his 19 years there, Akeley was instrumental in developing several high-end graphics products, including GTX, VGX, and RealityEngine. He’s also known for his revolutionary work on OpenGL, the industry-standard programming interface for high-performance graphics hardware. He eventually joined Microsoft, where he was the assistant managing director of the company’s research lab in Beijing. Upon returning to the U.S. in 2007, Akeley went on to help Microsoft develop state-of-the-art projects in display design, graphics system architecture, and high-performance computing. He later joined Google, where he's been serving as a distinguished engineer since 2018. To date, Akeley is the named inventor on over 30 patents, a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Among the many awards accrued by Akeley, he is a former recipient of the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award.
Akeley came to Stanford University in 1980, at a time before personal computers were ubiquitous and there were few places that offered such cutting-edge technologies. Originally Akeley was admitted to the PhD program, but after only two years at Stanford he decided to receive a Master of Science in electrical engineering instead. He chose not to continue his studies so that he could help launch Silicon Graphics. After nearly two decades in the workforce, however, Akeley returned to Stanford to complete some unfinished business. From 2001 to 2004, he pursued a Stanford PhD in stereoscopic display technology, which culminated in his dissertation: "Achieving Near-Correct Focus Cues Using Multiple Image Planes."
Akeley's association with his alma mater didn't end on graduation day. Instead, the graphics- programming veteran has remained an invaluable member of the Stanford community. From 2007 to 2012, Akeley served as a consulting assistant professor at Stanford, offering his students the rare opportunity of engagement with a pioneer in the computer graphics industry. Some of the more popular computer science classes he taught included Real-Time Graphics Architecture and Introduction to Computer Graphics. Additionally, in 2001, University leaders announced that Akeley had generously donated the "Kurt Akeley Papers, 1982-2000." The historic collection includes numerous media formats, including reports, patents, slides, manuals, publications, notebooks, email printouts, and videos pertaining to research and development during the heyday of Silicon Graphics. Furthermore, this archive is housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University Libraries—ensuring that future Stanford inventors have a chance to glean the groundbreaking work of their Palo Alto predecessors.