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Internet2 Mourns the Loss of Former Merit Network President Eric M. Aupperle

Posted on May 14, 2015 by Angela Stark
Tags: Higher Education,Leadership,Frontpage News,NSF
Eric Aupperle. Photo courtesy University of Michigan.

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Former Merit Network President Eric M. Aupperle, an active member of the Internet2 community and early Internet pioneer, passed away April 30 at the age of 80. Aupperle was known for his leadership and contributions to regional research and education (R&E) networks during his four-decade tenure at Merit, Michigan’s R&E network, and was instrumental in the development of the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET, the precursor to the modern Internet.

“Eric was recognized in the research and education community as a pioneer in the creation of the Internet as we know it today,” said Internet2 President and CEO H. David Lambert. “His leadership in bringing the community together to build the national fabric of advanced regional networks today has had an immeasurable impact on the advancement of research and education, and on the innovative capabilities of scientists, engineers and educators worldwide.”

After receiving his bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from the University of Michigan (U-M) in 1957, Aupperle was hired as a researcher of electronic devices at the U-M Cooley Electronics Laboratory. He was a lecturer in the U-M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1963-2002, teaching digital circuits and other circuits and computer-related courses. 

In 1969, Aupperle was hired as the first employee of Merit Network. By 1973 he had implemented a computer network that linked U-M, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University. A year later Eric was appointed director of Merit, and he would serve as Merit’s first president from 1988 to 2001.

During the mid-1980s, Merit Network, which had grown to include eight universities, was selected as lead organization to upgrade the national NSFNET, which was experiencing supercomputer network traffic demands exceeding its capacity at the time. Under Aupperle’s leadership, Merit also successfully worked to provide network access to K-12 schools throughout Michigan starting in the early 1990s. In addition, Merit helped develop the University of Michigan’s GoMLink, the first virtual library on the Internet. In 1994, Merit became involved with the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG), the professional association for Internet engineering and architecture, which is coordinated until 2010. 

In a University of Michigan statement, former Internet2 CEO Doug Van Houweling, who also served as chairman of the Merit Board of Directors, said,

"Eric Aupperle led Michigan's higher education network, Merit, through three decades of innovation. He had a unique talent for attracting gifted colleagues and welding their sometimes disparate visions into action that kept Merit at the forefront of network technology and applications. His crowning achievement was leadership of the NSFNET project, which demonstrated that Internet technology could serve millions of users and led to today's Internet. Eric's leadership changed the world."

For more information on Aupperle’s life and career visit the University of Michigan website.