Rocket Compiler Creator and Computer Science Professor Philip Sweany Dies

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Philip Hamilton Sweany, PhD, beloved husband, brother, professor, colleague, and friend, died March 29, 2018 of neuroendocrine cancer.


Born May 31, 1949 in Seattle, WA, Phil graduated from Washington State University with BS in Zoology in 1972.  He worked in air pollution research for 10 years before returning back to WSU to study and received a BS in Computer Science in 1982.  Phil married Margaret FalerSweany (Peggi) on January 27, 1980.  He received  an MS in 1986 and a PhD in 1992 in Computer Science from Colorado State University at Fort Collins, CO .  Phil was a member of the computer science faculty at Michigan Tech University at Houghton, MI from 1991 to 2000,  Texas Instruments’ Research and Development group in Dallas from 2000 to 2003, computer science and engineering faculty at University of North Texas in Denton from 2003 until his death in 2018.

Phil was my primary advisor during my MS study at Michigan Technological University from August 1994 to May 1996.  I joined his Rocket Compiler research group as a research assistant almost immediately after I arrived at MTU from China.  The computer science department was small and friendly.  I still remember about half dozen faculty members and a dozen graduate students by name and face and recall vivid memories of the time.   I remember Phil being extremely humorous.  One couldn’t stop smiling and laughing while conversing with him.  Also shortly after my arrival, my wife Linlin quit her graduate study at Peking U, and we started our married life.  It was also the first time I heard about Internet, had my first email account (, and my first home page (viewable from anywhere in the world).

Phil’s research was compiling for instruction level parallelism.  He and Steve Carr (who later became my co-advisor) put me to study a technique called software pipelining.  Under their direction, I was exposed to research and developed several improvements.  Through the work, the problem I found hardest and most intriguing was predicting the cost of a memory access.  This problem was the seed that grew into my later work at Rice, which then led to the research, past and present, at Rochester.

Next year I attended my first conference, when Phil took the whole group on the road to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend 28th MICRO, November 29 to December 1, 1995.   My first paper was published shortly after at 29th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS29), January 3-6, 1996, Maui, Hawaii.  Phil asked the department secretary to book the trip and told me that “unfortunately” to get “reasonable” airfare, I have to stay at Maui for the whole week!  I remember being handed a thick stack of paper tickets (Houghton to Detroit to LA to Honolulu to Maui and back) and when there, stayed in the luxury Intercontinental hotel, with its miles of private white-sand beach.  He put me in charge of renting a car (since I arrived first), although I have never rented a car before.  Phil took Peggi and I to dinner in the first evening.  We toured the rain forest together on the last day.  In between I remember swimming in the ocean, locking the key in the car, taking a helicopter tour, and a number of other things I did for the first time.

My spoken English was so accented that it was indecipherable.  Phil sent me to get help from Scientific and Technical Communication in Peggi’s department.  After being tutored by a student named Lynn for both English pronunciation and writing, people began to understand what I was saying.

At MTU, there were just a handful of CS graduate students, and we had an active social life.   There were multiple parties each year at faculty houses (or beach houses).  Phil and Peggi hosted the Thanksgiving party in their house in Hancock.  Theirs was my first encounter with not just the turkey but its many sides.  Fellow graduate students organized movie nights in the winter and excursions in the fall.  We spent a lot of time chatting when we sat in office, with Phil, Steve and other faculty occasionally walking by.  I remember passing the written test at DMV (made just one mistake) after half hour crash course in the office.  At MTU, graduate students stayed at the university apartments on the side of a hill next to campus.  I was elected a student officer working with a committee selecting movies to run each month on the residential cable network.  There was also much happened together with other Chinese students, e.g. the annual winter extravaganza.  But in about two years when I graduated in 1996, I was thoroughly, properly, and happily Americanized.

My memories at MTU 22 years ago were among the fondest of the time when I was young and a student of Phil.  I wrote the following comment yesterday after hearing the news:

Phil is my role model — a pure hearted scientist and teacher with uncompromising dedication to his research and students.  I’m most fortunate to have him as my MS advisor and will continue to follow his example.  His legacy lives through me and my students.