Faculty and Staff
Grandfather of geoinformatics wins international prize
By Wan Yee Lok
On July 28, Simon Fraser University geography professor emeritus Thomas Poiker received the Waldo Tobler GISscience Prize from the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The Prize recognizes scientists who have demonstrated outstanding and sustained contributions to geoinformatics and/or geographic information science as well as having accomplished significant advances in research and education. Geoinformatics is the science and the technology which develops and uses information science infrastructure to address geography, cartography, geosciences locations and engineering problems.
“I am incredibly honoured to receive this prize,” says Poiker. “The prize is extra special to me because I knew Waldo Tobler personally and worked with him in Austria.”
After receiving his PhD in theoretical economic geography in 1966 from Heidelberg, Germany. Poiker joined SFU’s geography department in 1967.
“I joined SFU during its second year and have stayed ever since,” says Poiker. “SFU has a reputation for the place where great research happens.” Poiker is known as the “grandfather of geoinformatics.” While trained as an economic geographer, Poiker quickly became interested in computer cartography and geographic information systems (GIS) and became a pioneer in GIS research. He has published widely on GIS and is known for being responsible for the Douglas-Peucker algorithm, and he invented the Triangular Irregular Networks (TIN) for explicit topography. His extensive knowledge of computers led him to co-founding SFU’s computing science department, where he had a joint appointment for almost a decade.
Poiker’s passion and leadership in the field of geoinformatics also extended to creating more opportunities for prospective students through distance education. He joined the UNIGIS, a distance learning network as its first North American partner and introduced “collaborative assignments” decades before massive open online courses (MOOCs) became available.
Poiker retired from SFU in 1998 and dedicated his time to teaching online courses until 2007. He enjoys creating Indigenous art as well as wood carving in his retirement.