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Remembering Svante

Jan 6, 2022

Svante Wold passed away on January 4, 2022, at the age of 81. In the fields of chemometrics and data science, there is no need to use his last name. If you say “Svante,” everybody knows who you are talking about.

I first met Svante almost 30 years ago at the Chemometrics in Analytical Chemistry conference in Montreal, CAC-92. I was a pretty new Ph.D. at that point, having graduated the year before. I presented a talk, “Monitoring the Health of Multi-Channel Analytical Instruments with Multivariate Statistical Process Control (MSPC).” Before the meeting, Bruce Kowalski told me to be sure to talk to Svante. So at some point, perhaps after his talk, I walked up and introduced myself. The first thing Svante said to me was something to the effect of “We’ve been following your work on MSPC and find it very interesting.”

I was shocked. I had no idea such an influential professor would even want to talk to me, let alone have an interest in the work I’d been doing. But that was Svante. Always interested, positive and easy to talk to. Very encouraging to young people in the field, especially those who were working with latent variable/projection methods.

Attending many of the same conferences we ran into each other frequently after that. I remember especially fondly the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Statistics in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. I attended my first GRC in 1993. Roger Hoerl was chair that year with Svante as his vice-chair, who would become chair the following year. Much to my surprise, Svante organized a side meeting to discuss development of PLS_Toolbox, which I had started distributing freely a couple years previously. The next thing I knew, “young Barry” (Svante’s nickname for me) had been elected vice-chair of the GRC. This meant that I would work with Svante in ’94 and become chair in ’95 (with Age Smilde as vice-chair).

The GRCs were exceedingly interesting scientifically and great fun. There was ample time for discussion, technical and otherwise. It was there that I discovered what a hoot it was to have beers with Svante. Many jokes and funny stories. (I still tell the Digger joke.) Svante always had a crowd around him. This of course continued at many more conferences and other gatherings over the years.

Svante had some unique views on data modeling. For instance, he once told me that he had found it useful to be somewhat lazy when modeling, and that philosophy had always served him well. “Don’t try too hard,” he said. This is good advice: the harder you dig and the more tightly you fit a model, the more likely you are to get a spurious correlation that won’t hold up. If what you are looking for isn’t readily apparent at first, you should be very cautious!

Along with my wife, Jill, I was very lucky to get to spend time with Svante and Nouna at their homes in Umeå, Boston and Hollis. We enjoyed their hospitality greatly. Unfortunately, we were never successful in talking them into coming out West to see us.

Barry M. Wise, Svante Wold, and Jill Wise at EAS in 2013

I’ll close with a picture that for me captures a bit of what was Svante. It was taken at Eastern Analytical Symposium (EAS) in 2013. We were all just goofing and having a good time at the President’s Ball. You can do a literature search and easily determine Svante’s vast influence on chemometrics and data science. But when I think of Svante I remember the fun times like this.

Rest in peace Svante, you will be long remembered and sorely missed.