Gordon Foster

Last updated on 18 July 2017

Frederic Gordon Foster (24 February 1921 – 20 December 2010)[1] was an Irish computational engineer, statistician, professor, and college dean who is widely known for devising, in 1965, a nine-digit code upon which the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is based.[1]


Foster was born in Belfast, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, between 1920 enactment and 1921 implementation of the partition of Ireland. He studied at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and began advanced study in mathematics at Queen's University Belfast. During World War II, he was recruited from Queen's by MI6 to work as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park.

After the war he resumed studies at Magdalen College, Oxford. A lecture on feedback control by Norbert Wiener, regarded as the originator of cybernetics, proved to be a great influence on Foster's research. Upon completing his PhD at Magdalen, he accepted an offer to lecture on his research at the University of Manchester, where he met Alan Turing, a Bletchley Park veteran who became known as the father of computer science. Turing introduced him to the Manchester Mark I computer and enlisted his help working on it. In 1952 Foster joined the faculty of the London School of Economics (LSE), first as an assistant lecturer in statistics, then lecturer and reader. In 1964, he was appointed to the chair of computational methods. While at LSE he helped develop operations research as an academic discipline.

Foster became professor of statistics at Trinity College Dublin in 1967. There he flourished, promoting statistical analysis and computer applications in several constituent schools and academic departments. He also developed his own department, with a strong postgraduate as well as undergraduate program, and set up the statistics and operations research laboratory, known for outreach to industry and public services. Eventually he was Dean of Engineering and System Sciences.[1]

Foster died in Dublin, 20 December 2010.[1]


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