Rolf Hempel specialised in the study of mathematics at the University of Bonn, at first on the numerical solution of simulation problems. At the beginning of his career in 1985, he was involved with the Society for Mathematics and Data Processing (Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung; GMD) but then increasingly with the development of common programming techniques for the newly emerging parallel computing.
For this purpose, he started, together with three colleagues, the international 'Message-Passing Interface' initiative. The resulting MPI programming model is still the dominant standard in high performance computing. After five years of working for the Japanese electronics company NEC, where he participated in the construction of a European research centre for 'high performance computing', in 2001 he was appointed head of the DLR Simulation and Software Technology Facility at the German Aerospace Center.
In his spare time, Rolf Hempel has been a passionate amateur astronomer for over 40 years. Earlier, he worked as a minor planet hunter (IAU observatory code 519), but today he is primarily interested in visual and photographic lunar observation.