Jerome S. Sacks, 91, passed away peacefully on January 2, 2023. He was born on May 8, 1931 in the Bronx, was a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and received his BA (1952) and PhD (1956) in mathematics from Cornell University, with Jack Kiefer as his advisor. From 1956 to 1961 he had positions at the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University and Cornell, at which point he moved to Northwestern University as Associate and then Full Professor. He stayed at Northwestern until 1984, with leaves at Rutgers University (1979–81) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) (1983–84). Jerry moved to the University of Illinois in 1984, serving as Head of the Department of Statistics until 1990. In 1991, Jerry became the Founding Director of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS), located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and Professor in the Institute of Statistics and Decision Sciences at Duke University. When he retired from NISS in 2001, he assumed full-time duties at Duke, becoming Emeritus Professor in 2005.
Jerry was a visionary as the first director of NISS, recognizing that it was crucial for NISS to focus on broad interdisciplinary activities in research and education. Creation of NISS was recommended in the 1988 report Cross-Disciplinary Research in the Statistical Sciences, which was co-authored by Jerry and Ingram Olkin. The many dozens of postdocs at NISS were trained in this cross-disciplinary style of research and carried this on into their professional lives. This cross-disciplinary focus resulted in NISS becoming a melting pot, involving people from academia, industry and government. Jerry was personally active in almost all facets of NISS and could often be found vocally contributing at the research group meetings and workshops happening at NISS. According to Alan Karr, Associate Director under Jerry and later Director, “Jerry’s attention to quality and innovation was relentless, and has enabled NISS to thrive throughout its 32 years of existence.”
Jerry was also important to the creation of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI), which functioned as a sister institute to NISS for many years. At his retirement, NISS established the Jerome Sacks Award for Cross-Disciplinary Research, in his honor, which has now been presented to 21 leading statistical scientists, including Jerry’s PhD student, the late Cliff Spiegelman.
Jerry had an exceptional research career. An enduring interest of his was design of experiments. Much of this work was with the late Don Ylvisaker, the most influential being the papers on design aspects of regression problems; these started in classical mathematical statistics and eventually came to include calibration, response surfaces and computer experiments. Jerry did outstanding work in a host of other areas, including ecological regression and voting rights, chemometrics, and environmental health. To learn more about this research and its evolution from mathematical statistics to interdisciplinarity, see the excellent exchange in 2012 between Jerry and Don: “After 50+ Years in Statistics, an Exchange” (Statistical Science, Vol. 27, 308–318). Jerry was recognized for this research by becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the American Statistical Association.
Sacks’ paper in 1989 (with Welch, Mitchell and Wynn), “Design and Analysis of Computer Experiments” (Statistical Science, 4, 409–435), arguably initiated what is now a huge field that spans statistics, applied mathematical modeling, engineering and many other disciplines. The field is called Uncertainty Quantification (UQ) outside of statistics, and involves the interaction of computer models (or other very complex models) with data, taking into account the many uncertainties inherent in the problem, including uncertainty in the computer models. (Of course, most statisticians interpret “uncertainty quantification” more generally.) At NISS, Jerry made UQ one of the central initiatives, studying highly complex scientific problems such as circuit optimization, traffic simulation, air pollution measurement, and automotive design, using both experimental design strategies and computer models. This eventually resulted in a joint initiative in UQ between the ASA and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), involving interest groups, a new journal, and meetings. The first international conference in UQ of the ASA/SIAM initiative was in 2012; recognizing his central role in founding the field, Jerry was one of two plenary speakers at the meeting. Jerry remained active in UQ research, participating extensively in SAMSI UQ programs as late as 2019.
Jerry was also a major contributor to the advancement of the discipline of statistics through structural changes. NISS (and SAMSI) were, of course, the major examples. Another was his stint at the NSF from 1983–84, as Director of the Statistics Program; he was able to significantly impact NSF support for statistics for the future. For all his contributions to the advancement of the discipline, Jerry received the Founders Award from the ASA in 1998.
Jerry was a lover of arts, especially jazz. He had a keen wit and was a joy to be around. His kindness and generosity were legendary and endeared him to all who knew him. There will be an invited memorial session for Jerry at JSM 2023 in Toronto, which will allow opportunities to share memories of him.
Predeceased by his wife Karin, Jerry is survived by daughters Sophia Sacks and Monica Freeland (Ryan), grandchildren Roxanne and Elliot, niece Anne Greenberg and nephew Richard Sacks (Marcia), and partner Mary Ellen Bock, the renowned statistician. Services were private. Memorial contributions may be made in his name to Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104, www.splcenter.org.
Written by James Berger, Duke University