Portrait of Arthur Hansen

Arthur G. Hansen

Purdue's eighth president, Arthur G. Hansen, led the university from 1971–82 and was known for his strong rapport with students and the creation of the President's Council, an organization that spurred Purdue's focus on private research funding. The only Purdue president to also be an alumnus, Hansen, a decade after he left the University when asked for the highlight of his Purdue presidency, quickly started talking about a supercomputer whose purchase he supported and approved.

The Hansen years represented a new chapter in Purdue's tradition of high-performance computing and the machine he referred to was one of only a handful of powerful supercomputers like it operated by academic institutions in the country for science research at the beginning of the 1980s. Among other things, Purdue researchers who used the system were the first to map the structure of a common cold virus. That and other discoveries likely wouldn't have been possible without Hansen's strong support for high-performance computing resources at Purdue. Suddenly, computational tasks involved in research, like deducing the structure of a virus from millions of data points collected with X-ray crystallography, took minutes instead of days in some cases and a week instead of a year in others. More complex problems could be solved and solved faster.

The Marine Corps sent Hansen, a Wisconsin native, to train at Purdue during World War II and he ended up earning his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1946 and master's degree in mathematics in 1948. He then went to work for Lewis Flight Propulsion Center, now NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Ohio, as a research scientist. Hansen received his doctorate in mathematics from Case Institute of Technology in 1958. Before joining Purdue's administration, he was a professor at the University of Michigan and chaired its Mechanical Engineering Department and served as dean of engineering and then president at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Hansen was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. As Purdue president, he supported the fledgling Black Cultural Center and the University's founding of the Society of Black Engineers, the first in the country. After he retired, Hansen served on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education for 10 years, many of them as chairman. According to his son Geoffrey, Hansen devoted his life to education because he considered it the solution for most problems in the world, especially racism and intolerance. In addition to the Hansen Community Cluster, Purdue has honored Hansen by naming the Arthur G. Hansen Life Sciences Research Building for him.