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Gerald Jay Sussman personal archives

Identifier: MC-0744

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the activities of Gerald Jay Sussman, the Panasonic Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Materials, dating from 1965 to 2003, include course materials, research, and publication and subject files. Course materials, ranging from the 1970s to the 2002, include lecture notes, quizzes, assignments, and transparencies for various courses taught by Sussman. Video recordings from 6.001 co-taught by Sussman and Hal Abelson are not included in this collection, but can be found in MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science curricula, AC-0484. Research Files include materials related to the creation of the Scheme programming language, the Supercomputer Toolkit, and the Digital Orrery and are grouped by project. Materials in this series are largely analogue consisting of background materials, publications, and printed code, though magnetic media files are included for the Digital Orrery project. The Digital Orrery itself is in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Publications and Subject Files series comprises publications created or collected by Sussman filed by author or subject matter. Materials in this series had little discernable arrangement, and have not been otherwise arranged. A significant portion of these files contain publications of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.


  • Creation: 1965 - 2003


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open. Two folders are restricted for 75 years by Institute policy. Additionally, magnetic media in the collection requires reformatting before access can be granted.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Biographical Note

Gerald Jay Sussman, born 1947, is the Panasonic (formerly Matsushita) Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He received the SB and the PhD degrees in mathematics from MIT in 1968 and 1973, respectively. He has been involved in artificial intelligence research at MIT since 1964. His research has centered on understanding the problem-solving strategies used by scientists and engineers, with the goals of automating parts of the process and formalizing it to provide more effective methods of science and engineering education. Sussman has also worked in computer languages, in computer architecture and in VLSI design.

Sussman is a coauthor (with Hal Abelson and Julie Sussman) of the introductory computer science textbook used at MIT, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. As a result of this and other contributions to computer-science education, Sussman received the ACM's Karl Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award in 1990, and the Amar G. Bose award for teaching in 1992.

Sussman's contributions to Artificial Intelligence include problem solving by debugging almost-right plans and various language structures for expressing problem-solving strategies. His work with Richard Stallman developed propagation of constraints for application to electrical circuit analysis and synthesis, and dependency-based explanation and backtracking. Sussman and his former student, Guy L. Steele Jr., invented the Scheme programming language in 1975.

Sussman saw that Artificial Intelligence ideas can be applied to computer-aided design. Sussman developed, with his graduate students, sophisticated computer-aided design tools for VLSI. Steele made the first Scheme chips in 1978. These ideas and the AI-based CAD technology to support them were further developed in the Scheme chips of 1979 and 1981. The technique and experience developed was then used to design other special-purpose computers. Sussman was the principal designer of the Digital Orrery, a machine designed to do high-precision integrations for orbital-mechanics experiments. The Orrery was designed and built by a few people in a few months, using AI-based simulation and compilation tools.

Using the Digital Orrery, Sussman has worked with Jack Wisdom to discover numerical evidence for chaotic motions in the outer planets. The Digital Orrery is now retired at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Sussman was also the lead designer of the Supercomputer Toolkit, another multiprocessor computer optimized for evolving systems of ordinary differential equations. The Supercomputer Toolkit was used by Sussman and Wisdom to confirm and extend the discoveries made with the Digital Orrery to include the entire planetary system.

Sussman has helpe develop the use of computational descriptions to communicate methodological ideas in teaching subjects in Electrical Circuits and in Signals and Systems. Over the past decade Sussman and Wisdom have developed a subject that uses computational techniques to communicate a deeper understanding of advanced Classical Mechanics. Computational algorithms are used to express the methods used in the analysis of dynamical phenomena. Expressing the methods in a computer language forces them to be unambiguous and computationally effective. Students are expected to read our programs and to extend them and to write new ones. The task of formulating a method as a computer-executable program and debugging that program is a powerful exercise in the learning process. Also, once formalized procedurally, a mathematical idea becomes a tool that can be used directly to compute results. Sussman and Wisdom, with Meinhard Mayer, have produced a textbook, Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics, to capture these ideas.

Sussman is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Sussman is a founding director of the Free Software Foundation.

Biography adapted from Sussman's website:


14.4 Cubic Feet (14 record cartons, 1 manuscript box, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



This collection documents the activities of Gerald Jay Sussman, the Panasonic Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Materials, dating from 1965 to 2003, include course materials, research, and publication and subject files in the field of computer science and artificial intelligence.


Arranged in three series: Course Materials, Research, and Publications and Subject Files. Series 1, Course Materials, arranged intellectually by course number. Series 2, Research, as been grouped by project: Digital Orrery, Supercomputer Toolkit, and Scheme. Series 3, Publications and Subject Files, has been left in original order, with no discernable arrangement.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Gerald Jay Sussman in 2018.


Approximately 0.4 cubic feet of student records and duplicate publications and course materials removed from collection.

Related Materials

Smithsonian Museum of American History, Digital Orrery,

Books coauthored by Gerald Sussman

  • Abelson, Harold, Gerald Jay Sussman, and Julie Sussman. Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
  • Sussman, Gerald Jay, and Jack Wisdom. Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics. Second edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014.
  • Sussman, Gerald Jay, Jack Wisdom, and Will Farr. Functional Differential Geometry. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.
Guide to the Gerald Jay Sussman personal archives
Chris Tanguay
2019 March
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US