most significant bits
newsletter of uw computer science & engineering
volume 22, number 1, spring 2012
university of washington
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 home CSE Home    MSB archive Spring 2012 MSB    MSB Archive   Contact Info Contact Info 
DawgBytes: A Taste of CSE Chair’s message New CSE Faculty Carlos Guestrin & Emily Fox Jeff Heer & Daniela Rosner Awards ’12 Alumni Achievement award ’12 Diamond Awards Cooper wins ACM dissertation award Borg scholars ’12 UW Presidential medalist ’12 UW Freshman medalist Goldwater Scholar News CSE cyber defense team repeats Tom Lehmann: top crew athlete Datagrams Events UW CSE returns to the Bay Area Inspirational Teachers
msb22.1 PDF

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About MSB

MSB is a twice yearly publication of UW CSE supported by the Industrial Affiliates Program.

Editor: Kay Beck-Benton.
Contributors: Ed Lazowska, Hank Levy, Sandy Marvinney, Hélène Martin.
Photo credits: Bruce Hemingway, Hélène Martin.

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Third Annual CSE Alumni Achievement Awards

During its June 9th graduation ceremony and dinner the prior evening, CSE honored John K. Bennett and Wen-Hann Wang, alumni with wide-ranging interests and global vision. These awards affirm to all CSE graduates and students that each contributes to a long, successful line with impact that drives deep and extends far.

John K. Bennett (PhD ’88)

John K. Bennett
John K. Bennett (PhD ’88)

Engineering educator/mentor, designer/builder, interdisciplinary catalyst

John Bennett is passionate about innovation in undergraduate education and encouraging undergraduate students in any major to take an interest in engineering and learn the principles of design through hands-on experiences. While on the faculty at Rice University, he taught a Lego Robot course with no prerequisites that drew both engineering and liberal arts students, whom he challenged to design and build autonomous robots programmed to complete various tasks.

“Students learn engineering principles by practicing them,” Bennett said. “Liberal arts majors bring a fresh perspective, and they are completely unfettered by what we engineers consider to be conventional wisdom.”

Another recent mission is developing better ways to teach introductory computer science to both majors and non majors. He created a course using SecondLife as a laboratory to entice students to learn how to program by stimulating their desire to imbue their virtual creations with behavior.

“After teaching the course a couple of times I realized the substantial gap between ‘I understand how to think computationally’ and ‘I am able to express that understanding using a programming language in a syntactically correct manner,’” Bennett said. “I created a Scratch-like programming environment called FS2LSL to make this possible.”

Information on FS2LSL may be viewed at:

Bennett, an expert in the design, implementation, and evaluation of distributed systems, joined the faculty at University of Colorado at Boulder in 2000, where he holds an endowed professorship in computer science and is a professor of electrical and computer engineering. He also served as associate dean of engineering and sciences, and now directs the ATLAS Institute, the Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society - a campus-wide entrepreneurial catalyst and incubator for innovative interdisciplinary research, education, and creative work.

Bennett has been active in Engineers Without Borders at UC and is a past president of the EWB national governing board. An expanding interest is the use of information communication technology (ICTD) to improve the quality of life in developing countries, and his work in this area has taken him to Kenya and Mali.

“I have championed inclusion of access to information as one of the steps out of poverty,” Bennett said. “Here at ATLAS we have established the first graduate degree in the country that focuses on ICTD practice, and we graduate our first cohort this spring.”

He earned BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering at Rice, then joined the Navy as a commissioned officer. He decided to enroll in UW CSE’s doctoral program after he completed a posting at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where he supervised the repair and overhaul of a destroyer two nuclear cruiser. At UW his dissertation research on distributed Smalltalk.

“A real engineer” is how his former doctoral advisor, Ed Lazowska, describes him. “John designs and builds things. He is a problem solver and is totally undeterred by the sorts of obstacles that would stop others in their tracks,” Lazowska said. “He has made the ATLAS Institute a huge success at Colorado. It’s a national model for engaging computer scientists with global challenges and with other disciplines.”

True to his cross-disciplinary advocacy, Bennett’s non-engineering pursuits range from a love of snowshoeing and motorcycles, to Renaissance literature, and weaving tapestries.

And his feelings about the Alumni Achievement Award? “I’m thrilled, honored, and humbled. It’s sort of like your parents saying ‘Way to go. Thanks for not screwing up.’”

I have learned why so many of my engineering friends put themselves through hell to become engineers — it’s because of the awesome sense of achievement you feel when you build something with your own two hands and intellect and make it work really well.
Student in Lego Robots, engineering design course

Wen-Hann Wang (PhD ’89)

Wen-Hann  Wang
Wen-Hann Wang (PhD ’89)

Computer architecture/systems expert, R&D executive, globe crosser

Wen-Hann Wang’s educational and career odysseys have crossed four continents. Our man of the world is also our man at Intel, where he is vice president of Intel Labs in Hillsboro, Oregon, and director of circuits and systems research. A new area of responsibility is looking at how to apply circuit technologies to solve biologic challenges. During more than 20 years at Intel, Wang’s assignments have included two postings to Shanghai and dozens of trips abroad to Russia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Closer to home travels include spring and fall visits to Seattle as Intel’s liaison to the UW.

A native of Taiwan, Wang earned his BS there and MS in The Netherlands. For his doctoral research at UW he worked with Jean-Loup Baer on multi-cache level hierarchies and co-authored a ground-breaking paper that won the “test of time” award from the International Symposium of Computer Architecture in 2003.

Wang has kept in close touch with Baer, who considered him a “brilliant student, first-rate researcher, and still the nicest guy on earth” ... and of course, an exemplary choice for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“This award is an incredible honor to me,” Wang said. “I felt immensely lucky to be admitted to UW back in 1985. This honor is much more than what I could have possibly dreamed for.”

To read more about Wen-Hann, see the feature story in the autumn 2011 issue of MSB:

Two new diamonds in the CSE trove

Anne Condon
Anne Condon

For the fourth time since 2006, the College of Engineering presented 2012 Diamond Awards to two CSE alumni. This year’s honorees are Anne Condon (PhD ’87), head of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and Greg Badros (PhD ’00), vice president of products and engineering at Facebook. Condon received the award for Distinguished Achievement in Academia, and Badros received the Early Career Award, bestowed by Dean Matt O’Donnell at the May 18 Diamond Awards Dinner.

Anne Condon is a computer science theoretician whose work progressed from an award-winning doctoral dissertation on complexity theory to current research on DNA computing and algorithms for biology. After 12 years at the “other UW” in Madison, Wisconsin, she joined the faculty at UBC in 1999 and was appointed head of Computer Science last year. In an almost annual series of honors, she received the 2010 Computing Research Association Award for increasing participation of women and underrepresented groups in computing research, and last year CSE honored her with our Alumni Achievement Award.

Condon described receiving the Diamond Award as “incredible,” with special acknowledgment for her mentors and peers at UW CSE who “gave me the passion for research and inspired me to make a difference in the lives of students I work with.” Read a profile of Condon in the spring 2011 MSB profile:
Greg Badros
Greg Badros

It’s clear why Greg Badros merits the Early Career Award. After he tied a CSE record by finishing his PhD in three years and eight months, he caught the Internet wave, first working at Go2Net as chief technical architect. At Google he rose to senior director of engineering, leading consumer apps such as Gmail, Calendar, and Reader. After joining Facebook in 2009, Badros scaled up the technology for advertising systems, and now as vice president of products and engineering, he leads key areas including advertising, search, and data science.

Badros loves working in the high-impact universe of social media because “the amount of good we can do in the world is truly inspiring and makes me grateful for the opportunity I have.” He said the Diamond Award is a “huge and special recognition” and reports the network of friends and colleagues he built up during his CSE years “has proven valuable again and again throughout my career.”

Read more about the 2012 Diamond Award winners and CSE’s past honorees at:

Seth Cooper wins ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award

Seth Cooper
Seth Cooper

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), announced May 2 that Seth Cooper, 2011 PhD alum and current creative director of the UW Center for Game Science (CGS), has been named the recipient of the 2011 Doctoral Dissertation Award. The award is presented annually to the author of the best doctoral dissertation in the field. (To put that into perspective, roughly 1,500 PhDs in computer science were awarded last year in the United States alone.)

Seth’s dissertation, “A Framework for Scientific Discovery through Video Games,” was advised by UW CSE professor Zoran Popović. The dissertation explores how the video game environment can be used for solving difficult scientific problems. Seth is the cocreator and lead designer and developer of Foldit. Employing the collective efforts of tens of thousands of gamers, Foldit players solved the structure of a key protein in the fight against HIV, putting the combined power of humans and computers toward solving problems that neither could solve alone.

The award makes UW CSE one of only three in the world that have won the ACM award two times. (UW CSE Ph.D. alum AnHai Doan, now a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, won the award in 2003.)

When interviewed for an article in the UW Daily, Popović stated he is proud of the accomplishment of his former student, whom he considers “one of the best software developers he’s ever known,” but also believes it holds significance for the UW CSE department and the field of computer science at large.

“If you look over the last 10 years, there are only three CS departments in the world that have won the ACM award two times,” he said. “We are one of them. It is a good indication that UW CSE is one of the top five computer-science departments. Thinking broader, his thesis shows how computer science, when integrated with limitless human cognitive ability, can solve hard problems facing society today.”

Congratulations to Seth!

Jenny Abrahamson, Nicki Dell win Anita Borg Scholarships

Jenny Abrahamson
Jenny Abrahamson

UW CSE graduate students Jenny Abrahamson and Nicki Dell are among 25 outstanding young women from across the U.S. named as winners of 2012 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarships.

Jenny is completing her fourth year of CSE’s combined Bachelor’s/Master’s program. She has been working with Professor Mike Ernst on tools for analyzing systems from their execution logs. This summer she plans to intern at Google in Munich on the Infrastructure privacy team. Jenny will return next fall to complete her masters degree.

Nicki Dell
Nicki Dell

Nicki is a PhD student who is advised by Professor Gaetano Borriello and Professor Linda Shapiro. Her research interests are in computer vision, machine-learning and human-computer interaction, with a focus on designing and evaluating applications that improve the lives of underserved populations in low-income regions. She is interested in investigating the potential for smartphones to be used as a platform for disease diagnosis and monitoring at the point of care in developing countries. Nicki runs the Change Seminar, a group at UW exploring how technology can improve the lives of underserved populations in low-income regions, and she is also actively involved in DUB, a multidisciplinary group at UW that leads research in Human Computer Interaction and Design.

The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship honors the memory of Dr. Anita Borg, who devoted her life to encouraging the presence of women in computing and founded the Institute for Women in Technology in 1997. Anita passed away in 2003, and the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship was established in 2004 to honor her memory. Anita’s legacy lives on today through this scholarship and the organization she created, which has since been re-named the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology.

Jenny and Nicki join eighteen other women from UW CSE that have recognized with this honor. Congratulations to Jenny and Nicki!

Melissa Winstanley: 2012 UW President’s Medalist

Melissa Winstanley
Melissa Winstanley

The University of Washington President’s Medal is awarded each year to the most accomplished student in UW’s 7500-member senior class. Congratulations to CSE’s Melissa Winstanley, the 2012 UW President’s Medalist!

Melissa - a graduate of Bellevue High School - is a dual major in Computer Science and Music. She began her CSE career as the top student (out of 475) in CSE 142 and the top student (out of 297) in CSE 143. She has continued this extraordinary academic trajectory while serving as head Teaching Assistant for CSE 143 for the 2011-12 academic year, serving as chair of UW’s ACM-W chapter, performing as saxophone principal in the University of Washington Wind Ensemble, and serving as an Honors Peer Mentor. Her summers have included two internships with Google, a research internship with UW’s Community Ecology Lab, and a UW Honors Program summer in Rome.

For the past year, Melissa has worked on an honors research project on mobile tools for public health with UW CSE faculty Richard Anderson and Ruth Anderson. Using Google Maps, she has been developing a web tool for modeling geographic data to facilitate vaccine capacity analysis in Third World nations. One of the biggest bottlenecks of worldwide vaccination initiatives is a deficit of refrigerators: donated vaccines go bad without adequate refrigeration. Her research integrates with existing software from PATH and has been trialed by public health administrators in Africa. This summer, she plans to intern at Google Seattle, working on Google Maps and furthering her work with visualization and maps. Melissa will return in the fall to complete her Masters in CSE. She is excited to continue learning and to continue her work as a teaching assistant in the department.

CSE’s Eric Lei wins UW Freshman Medal

Eric Lei
Eric Lei

Each year, the UW recognizes the top student (of roughly 7,500) in the previous year’s Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior classes as class Medalists. Congratulations to CSE’s Eric Lei, this year’s UW Freshman Medalist!

Eric entered the UW following 10th grade through the Robinson Center’s UW Academy. He describes receiving the freshman medal as his "first real accomplishment" as a UW undergraduate. Pushing himself in his classes and participating in research are important factors for Eric in his undergraduate experience, and he is actively pursuing research opportunities that will enable him to apply classroom concepts to real-world applications. He is a member of the investment club Husky Traders, completed an economics research internship in which he analyzed teachers’ union bargaining contracts, and is a former tutor for elementary school math. This summer, Eric will intern as a programmer for Qualcomm. After graduation, Eric would like to work for a few years and then enter graduate school for either computer science or economics.

Raymond Zhang awarded a Goldwater Scholarship

Raymond Zhang
Raymond Zhang

CSE undergraduate Raymond Zhang is one of 282 top undergraduates from across the nation to have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships for the 2012-13 academic year. The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,123 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Raymond is pursuing dual degrees in computer engineering and biology. He was a part of the Early Entrance Program at the UW, starting college at age 13 in order to be challenged and to accelerate his learning.

Beginning with his sophomore year, Raymond has been part of a computational biology research group led by Ram Samudrala, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology. He is currently working on a project that will predict the three-dimensional structure of how proteins and nucleic acid strands will interact with each other; the project will use known structures of similar interactions as templates to build models. Previously in work he conducted in the Samudrala Compbio Group, Raymond re-implemented a program to refine a protein model based on finding consensus in a collection of models for that protein.

Raymond participated in a Summer Undergraduate Research Program with Dr. Myles Akabas's lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He spent the summer working on a project to develop an assay to block a protein critical for the growth of a strain of malaria parasites (P. falciparum).

After his undergraduate career, Raymond plans to enter a combined M.D./Ph.D. program focusing on computational biology, with the long-term goal of being a physician scientist. He would like to use computers to model biological systems and develop innovative treatments for diseases.

At the ripe age of 16, Raymond is the 8th recent CSE student to be recognized with a Goldwater Scholarship. A list of our award winning students may be viewed here:

Congratulations, Raymond!

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