Carl Adam Petri#

Petri nets were invented by Petri already in August 1939 – at the age of 13 – for the purpose of describing chemical processes. In 1941 his father told him about Konrad Zuse's work on computing machines and Carl Adam started building his own analog computer.

After earning his Abitur at the Thomasschule he was in 1944 drafted into the Wehrmacht and eventually went into British captivity.

Petri started studying mathematics at the Darmstadt University of Technology in 1950. He documented the Petri net in 1962 as a part of his dissertation, Kommunikation mit Automaten (Communication with Automata). He worked from 1959 until 1962 at the University of Bonn and received his PhD degree in 1962 from the Darmstadt University of Technology.

Petri's work significantly advanced the fields of parallel computing and distributed computing, and it helped define the modern studies of complex systems and workflow management. His contributions have been in the broader area of network theory which includes coordination models and theories of interaction, and eventually led to the formal study of software connectors.

He passed away July 2, 2010. With his death, the world lost one of the most imaginative and important computer scientists.

Full (German) Obituary by Wolfgang Reisig - PDF-file(info). Published in Informatik Spektrum, Vol 23, No. 5, Oct. 2010.

Carl Adam Petri, 1926-2010

Short English Version of Obituary by Wolfgang Reisig#

Carl Adam Petri was one of the most inventive computer scientists of our time. In his 1962 visionary PhD Thesis Communication with Automata he predicted communication to become the core task of computers, and distributed systems to become the standard computer architecture. This in fact was very revolutionary in the early 1960ies, and so it took some time before his ideas were broadly recognized.

Nowadays most (European) computer science students study Petri nets as a fundamental modeling technique for distributed systems. Petri Nets are frequently used to model systems of other areas, too, including systems biology, chemistry, and workflow management.

With his Institute for Information Systems Research in Birlinghoven (near Bonn, Germany), Petri and his group had a chance to exert long term basic research, with no need to defend short term project proposals. One may wonder what happens nowadays to such ingenious minds.

Long after his scientific achievements, Petri received numerous honors, including

  • Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse des Verdienstordens der
  • Bundesrepublik Deutschlands
  • 1988 Honorarprofessor der Universität Hamburg
  • 1989 Mitglied der Academia Europaea, London
  • 1993 Konrad-Zuse-Medaille der Gesellschaft für Informatik für besondere Verdienste um die Informatik
  • 1997 Werner-von-Siemens-Ring für herausragende Verdienste um die Technik in Verbindung mit der Wissenschaft
  • 1997 Mitglied der New York Academy of Sciences
  • 1999 Ehrendoktor der Universität Zaragossa
  • 2003 Commandeur in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw
  • 2007 Gold Medal of Honor der Academy of Transdisciplinary Learning and Advanced Studies
  • 2009 IEEE Computer Pioneer Award

On July 2, 2010, Carl Adam passed away. His loss is felt deeply by friends and colleagues around the world.

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