Thursday, April 10, 2014

A University of Maryland computer scientist has been named the 2014 recipient of the W. Wallace McDowell Award, the highest technical honor given by the IEEE Computer Society.

UMD Computer Science Professor Hanan Samet. Photo: Mike Morgan (Click image to download hi-res version.)

Hanan Samet, a Distinguished University Professor of computer science with an appointment in the university’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), was recognized with the award for his groundbreaking work in spatial data structures, translation validation and proof carrying code.

The award is named for W. Wallace McDowell, who spent decades working for IBM overseeing the company’s development of the first commercial electronic calculator.

Samet’s innovative research has led to new discoveries in computer graphics, geographic information systems (GIS), robotics and more. His work is often credited as the basis for others to develop widely used applications like Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

“We are very proud of Hanan’s research and scholarship. His work has high scientific value, but also impacts our everyday lives—from computer games to navigational tools to biomedical imaging,” says Jayanth Banavar, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

The IEEE Computer Society says the award is given to individuals for “outstanding theoretical, design, educational, practical or other innovative contributions in the field of computing.”

Previous winners read like a who’s who of giants in the computing and information technology industry.

They include FORTRAN creator John W. Backus (1967); supercomputer pioneers Seymour Cray (1968), Gene Amdahl (1976) and Ken Kennedy (1995); the architect of IBM’s mainframe computer Frederick Brooks (1970); Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore (1978); Donald Knuth, the father of algorithm analysis (1980); microprocessor inventor Federico Faggin (1994); World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (1996); Lotus Notes creator and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (2000); and IBM Fellow Ronald Fagin (2012).

The McDowell Award is the latest recognition of Samet’s stellar scientific and academic career. Other accolades include the 2009 University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) Research Award, and the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) 2011 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award.

UMD Computer Science Professor Hanan Samet. Credit: Tom Ventsias (Click image to download hi-res version.)

Samet is the author of the award-winning “Foundations of Multidimensional and Metric Data Structures” (Morgan-Kaufmann, 2006) and the first two books on spatial data structures, “Design and Analysis of Spatial Data Structures” and “Applications of Spatial Data Structures: Computer Graphics, Image Processing, and GIS” (Addison-Wesley, 1990).

His 1975 Stanford University doctoral thesis dealt with proving the correctness of translations of the LISP programming language, which was the first work in the field that 20 years later became known as translation validation and the related concept of proof carrying code. This work finds use in embedded systems.

Samet is founding editor-in-chief of ACM Transactions on Spatial Algorithms and Systems, and the founding chair of ACM SIGSPATIAL. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Association for Pattern Recognition, ACM, IEEE and the UCGIS.

Samet’s recent work involves spatio-textual search as realized in an application he developed called NewsStand, which lets users search for worldwide news on their computers or mobile devices with a query interface displayed on a world map.

Samet likens the research to exploiting the power of spatial synonyms, saying that NewsStand is useful because you don’t have to plug in keywords, you just have to have an idea of an area or topic you want to explore.

Samet will receive the McDowell Award and an honorarium at the IEEE Computer Society Board of Governor’s award dinner on June 4 in Seattle, Wash.

--University of Maryland/College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences--

Media Contact: Tom Ventsias 301-405-5933