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David MacKay (scientist)

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David MacKay (scientist)

David MacKay
David MacKay (photo by David Stern)
Born (1967-04-22) April 22, 1967 (age 47)[1]
Fields Machine learning, Information Theory and Sustainable energy
Institutions University of Cambridge, California Institute of Technology, Department of Energy and Climate Change
Alma mater University of Cambridge, California Institute of Technology
Thesis Doctoral advisor John Hopfield
Doctoral students David Stern
Known for Sustainable Energy - without the hot air[2]
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society
Spouse Ramesh Ghiassi[3]

David John Cameron MacKay, FRS (born April 22, 1967), is the Regius Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge[4] and chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).[5] Before being appointed to the DECC, MacKay was most well known as author of the book Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air.[2][6][7]

Life and career

MacKay was born the fifth child of Donald MacCrimmon MacKay and Valerie MacKay. His elder brother Robert S. MacKay FRS (born in 1956) is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. He was educated at Newcastle High School (later Newcastle-under-Lyme School) and represented Britain in the International Physics Olympiad in Yugoslavia in 1985, receiving the first prize for experimental work. MacKay went up to Trinity College, Cambridge and received a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences (Experimental and theoretical physics) in 1988. He went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as a Fulbright Scholar. His supervisor in the graduate programme in Computation and Neural Systems was John Joseph Hopfield.[8] He was awarded a PhD in 1992.[9][10]

In January 1992 MacKay was made the Royal Society Smithson Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge, continuing his cross-disciplinary research in the Cavendish Laboratory, the Department of Physics of the University of Cambridge. In 1995 he was made a University Lecturer in the Cavendish Laboratory. He was promoted in 1999 to a Readership, in 2003 to a Professorship in Natural Philosophy and in 2013 to the Regius Professorship of Engineering.[11] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May 2009.[12]

MacKay has an Erdős number of 2, and is a vegetarian.[13]

Engineering contributions

MacKay's contributions[14][15] in machine learning and information theory include the development of Bayesian methods[16] for neural networks,[17] the rediscovery (with Radford M. Neal) of low-density parity-check codes,[18] and the invention of Dasher,[19] a software application for communication especially popular with those who cannot use a traditional keyboard.[20] In 2003, his book Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms[21] was published.

MacKay was appointed to the first holder of the Regius Professor of Engineering post at the University of Cambridge in March 2013.[11]

Science outreach and service

His interests beyond research include the development of effective teaching methods and African development; he taught regularly at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town from its foundation in 2003 to 2006. In 2008 he completed a book on energy consumption and energy production without fossil fuels called Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air. MacKay used £10,000 of his own money to publish the book, and the initial print run of 5,000 sold within days.[22] The book received praise from The Economist,[23] The Guardian,[22] and Bill Gates, who called it "one of the best books on energy that has been written."[24][25] Like his textbook on Information theory, MacKay makes the book available for free online. In March 2012 he gave a TED talk on renewable energy.[26]


David MacKay was appointed to be Chief Scientific Advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom, in September 2009.[5]


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