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Allen School’s Jeffrey Heer wins ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award

Jeffrey Heer Allen School professor Jeffrey Heer has been named the recipient of the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). This prestigious award recognizes an outstanding early-career professional who has made a significant technical or service contribution to the field of computing. Heer, who leads the Allen School’s Interactive Data Lab, was chosen as this year’s winner for his work on visualization tools that have transformed how people interact with data — tools that are currently used by thousands of researchers, data enthusiasts, and media companies around the world.

“With the meteoric increase of data collection in recent years, tools are urgently needed to understand and see patterns within data,” says the ACM in its award announcement. “Jeffrey Heer, a Professor at the University of Washington, has been a leader in developing computer languages to create charts, graphs and other visualizations that help people explore and understand data.”

Heer’s contributions to the field of data visualization began as a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, when he collaborated with Stuart Card at the Palo Alto Research Center and then-professor James Landay of the Allen School to develop Prefuse, one of the first software packages to enable developers to quickly and easily create and customize dynamic visualizations from structured or unstructured data. As a member of the Stanford University faculty, Heer worked with Mike Bostock on the development of the Protovis and D3.js graphical systems for constructing interactive visualizations for the web. The latter, as the ACM notes, was rapidly adopted as a primary tool for web developers worldwide.

At the Allen School, Heer and his team in the Interactive Data Lab launched the Vega project to advance an ecosystem of interoperable tools for data analysis and visualization design that is underpinned by Vega, a convenient but powerful tool for writing programs that generate visualizations. Heer and his team subsequently built upon the Vega foundation with higher-level tools such as Vega-Lite, a high-level grammar that enables the rapid and concise specification of interactive data visualizations which earned the Best Paper Award at InfoVis 2016, and Lyra, a graphical interface for designing custom visualizations for online publication without the need to write code.

The Grace Murray Hopper Award is one of four technical awards announced today by the ACM. Heer and his fellow recipients were selected by their peers for significant technical contributions “that have had a far-reaching impact on how we live and work.” The winners will collect their awards at the annual ACM Awards Banquet next month in San Francisco, California.

Learn more about the ACM awards here.

Congratulations, Jeff!

May 3, 2017

Allen School capstone film “Fish Out of Water” wins Global Shorts Award of Merit

Still shot from "Fish Out of Water"Fish Out of Water,” an animated film created by students in the Allen School’s interdisciplinary Animation Capstone, has won an Award of Merit in the 2017 Global Shorts competition. Global Shorts is an international competition based in Los Angeles that recognizes outstanding films with run-times of 50 minutes or less. It attracts works from filmmakers around the world, some of whom go on to earn nominations and awards in such prestigious competitions as the Golden Globes, Cannes Film Festival, BAFTAs, and British Independent Film Awards.

“Fish Out of Water” tells the story of Roy, an office worker who struggles with a demanding job and an even more demanding boss. His situation is not helped by his office-mate, whose relentlessly cheery attitude even as the paperwork piles up just compounds Roy’s misery. He gets through his days by fantasizing about the past — but when he comes to the realization that life is too short for such soul-destroying drudgery, he decides to chart a new course.

Each year, the Allen School’s Animation Capstone offers students an opportunity to put into practice what they learned in their digital animation classes by producing a short animated film. Participants work on all aspects of production, including scene planning, modeling, digital cinematography, character animation, and rendering.

“Fish Out of Water” is the latest in a line of award-winning films to emerge from the course. It was directed by Barbara Mones, Director for Animation Production at the UW’s Animation Research Labs, and produced by a multi-disciplinary team of 22 students enrolled in the 2015 capstone: the Allen School’s Bing Gan, Stanley Janicki, Aria Li, Vincent Liu, Alexa McLaughlin, Zhuonan Eric Sun, Ian Wagner Smith, Sarah Wai, and Cherry Chenwei Zhou; Electrical Engineering’s Kristine Lee and Riley O’Callaghan; Human Centered Design & Engineering’s Lucia ShinYoung Choi; Industrial Design’s Sindre Punsvik; Informatics’ Ying Dang, Jenna Han, and Vivyan Woods; Interdisciplinary Visual Arts’ Esmeralda Duenas, Brianna Fecarotta, Elizabeth Ong, Andrew Shin, and Lac Tranvu; and Medical Anthropology & Global Health student Marisa Katagiri.

View the trailer for “Fish Out of Water” here, and learn more about the Animation Capstone here.

Congratulations to Barbara, her students, and the entire production team!

May 1, 2017

Allen School’s Magdalena Balazinska wins SIGMOD Test of Time Award

Professor Magdalena Balazinska, member of the Allen School’s Database Group and Senior Data Science Fellow at the eScience Institute, has won the 2017 Test of Time Award from the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on the Management of Data (ACM SIGMOD). Balazinska earned the award for her 2005 paper “Fault-Tolerance in the Borealis Distributed Stream Processing System,” which drew upon her Ph.D. research and was co-authored by Hari Balakrishnan, Samuel Madden, and Michael Stonebreaker at MIT.

The Test of Time Award is given to a paper that appeared at SIGMOD between 10 and 12 years ago that has had a significant influence on the field of data management since its initial publication. In this year’s winning paper, Balazinska and her colleagues presented a novel approach for increasing the fault tolerance of an emerging class of distributed data-intensive applications known as stream processing applications.

At the time the paper was written, stream processing applications were being deployed in an increasing number and variety of domains, including computer networking, financial services, medical information systems, civil engineering, and the military. To make these applications more resilient, Balazinska and her colleagues developed a replication-based approach that enabled fault-tolerant distributed stream processing in the face of node failures, network failures, and network partitions. Unlike existing techniques that either neglected to address network failures or strictly favored consistency over availability, this new approach offered a configurable trade-off between availability and consistency — while guaranteeing eventual consistency.

Borealis was an early distributed stream processing system developed through a collaboration between MIT, Brown University, and Brandeis University. The project pioneered many new stream processing techniques, including the one put forward in the award-winning paper. These techniques remain critical today as the need for stream processing capabilities continues to grow and new streaming systems are developed.

Balazinska holds the Allen School’s Jean-Loup Baer Career Development Professorship and directs the IGERT Ph.D. program in Big Data and Data Science at the University of Washington. She has received multiple awards recognizing her contributions to the field of data management, including the inaugural Women in Database Research Award at last year’s Very Large Data Bases (VLDB) conference and a Most Influential Paper Award from the Working Conference on Reverse Engineering (WCRE). Balazinska will collect her latest honor at the 2017 SIGMOD/PODS conference in Chicago next month.

Congratulations, Magda!

April 27, 2017

Mozak from Allen School’s Center for Game Science and Allen Institute for Brain Science featured in The New York Times

Mozak in-game screenshotMozak, a new scientific discovery game developed by Allen School professor Zoran Popović and colleagues at the Center for Game Science and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, is featured in a New York Times article today highlighting its success at engaging citizen scientists in advancing fundamental neuroscience research. Since Mozak first launched last November, more than 200 people have logged on each day to produce three-dimensional reconstructions of neurons — helping scientists gain a better understanding of the brain’s structure and function to fight diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“New technologies have allowed us to create three-dimensional images of individual neurons, but our ability to catalog these brain cells, map their structure and understand the relationships between them has been shockingly slow,” explained Popović in a related UW News release. “There’s a big bottleneck in processing and analyzing the data coming in, which is where the Mozak community is making a big impact.”

That community is likely to make an impact on computer science in the process. Human eyes are better at distinguishing the fine details and complex shapes of a neuron’s structure, particularly when faced with visual noise, but computers can perform tedious tasks much more rapidly than humans when provided with clear data. Researchers hope that the human players’ more accurate reconstructions eventually can be used to make computers more effective at the task on a much larger scale through advances in artificial intelligence and computer vision — leveraging what humans and computers do best to tackle unsolved challenges in science.

“If we create a corpus of thousands of these neurons, the chances are the computational methods will become better,” Popović told The New York Times. “You can see this as symbiosis — computers learn from what people are doing and they do better.”

Mozak players trace the complex shapes of neurons, which were captured by Allen Institute researchers using high-powered microscopes, to create the reconstructions and receive real-time feedback from neuroscientists. In order to ensure the end product is accurate, the game requires consensus among multiple players. The collaboration between Mozak’s citizen scientists and the Allen Institute neuroscientists has more than tripled the rate of completed neuron reconstructions compared to what the researchers were able to do on their own. And the researchers are thrilled by the prospect.

“It’s really exciting that regular people out in the world can, in a short period of time, be taught how to reconstruct neurons on the same level as experts who have been doing this a long time,” said Allen Institute researcher Staci Sorensen.

Read the full article here, and the UW News release here. Read a related article the The Daily here. Watch a video demonstration of Mozak below, and test your skills in neuron reconstruction by playing Mozak here.

This is not the first time the Center for Game Science has harnessed the power of play to advance scientific discovery. Its award-winning puzzle game, FoldIt, has inspired more than 460,000 players to assist scientists in identifying the structure of various proteins to combat diseases such as AIDS and Ebola.


April 24, 2017

Vote by Friday for Allen School nominees in the 2017 GeekWire Awards!

Only one more day to stuff the ballot box for Allen School nominees in the 2017 GeekWire Awards competition:

Deal of the Year: Impinj (Chris Diorio) or Turi (Carlos Guestrin) – let your conscience be your guide!

Geek of the Year: Ed Lazowska

Hire of the Year: Tim Prouty (alum)

Innovation of the Year: Microsoft Project Catapult (alum Andrew Putnam and Affiliate Professor Doug Burger)

App of the Year: Senosis Health (Shwetak Patel)

April 20, 2017

Six Allen School faculty members win NSF CAREER Awards

National Science Foundation logoThe Paul G. Allen School at the University of Washington is celebrating an unprecedented total of six NSF CAREER Awards earned by faculty members in 2017. The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program is the agency’s most prestigious category of awards and is designed to recognize and support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars and successfully integrate education and research. The six recipients are engaged in research that will advance core and emerging areas, with projects focused on theory, data management, programming languages, security and privacy, computer vision, and human-computer interaction. But the impact of their work will extend far beyond the field of computing. Through the development of new principles, tools and processes, they are laying the foundation for future advances in health care, transportation, education, and more.


Alvin Cheung: Improving database management for real-world applications

Alvin CheungProfessor Alvin Cheung works with the Database and Programming Languages & Software Engineering (PLSE) groups on research into program analysis, program synthesis, and building large-scale data management systems. He earned a CAREER Award for his proposal “Generating Application-Specific Database Management Systems” to automate the process of domain specialization in database management systems (DBMSs). Cheung will leverage recent advances in programming systems and data management to build tools that automatically understand database application semantics — streamlining what is currently a complex and error-prone process to improve a variety of applications that rely on DBMSs, from banking, to social media, to scientific discovery.

Cheung will make the tools he develops and the data he gathers on the performance of real-world database applications publicly available for the benefit of other researchers and practitioners in the field, and some of his preliminary results will appear in upcoming data management and programming systems conferences this year.


Ali Farhadi: Enhancing computers’ understanding of the visual world

Ali FarhadiAli Farhadi is a professor in the Allen School’s Graphics & Imaging Laboratory (GRAIL), where his research spans computer vision and machine learning, and a senior research manager at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in charge of Project Plato. Farhadi received a CAREER Award for “Active and Action-Centric Visual Understanding,” a project that will enable computers to develop a more human-like understanding of actions and their consequences in order to improve their ability to plan and perform tasks. Farhadi aims to create a framework that supports active visual understanding accompanied by new data sets and algorithms that address several fundamental challenges at the intersection of computer vision and artificial intelligence.

Farhadi’s work will open up new research directions in computer vision, robotics, and AI while enabling real-world applications in areas such as health care, elder care, education, and entertainment.


Katharina Reinecke: Creating culturally-aware user interfaces, driven by data

Katharina ReineckeProfessor Katharina Reinecke is a researcher in human-computer interaction and co-founder of LabintheWild, a virtual lab for conducting large-scale behavioral studies online to understand how people’s interactions with technology are influenced by cultural background, demographics, and geography. She won a CAREER Award for her proposal “Data-Driven User Interface Designs for Culturally Diverse Groups,” in which she will use data collected through LabintheWild to develop new guidelines and tools for the development of culturally-specific web interfaces. Reinecke will analyze data comparing human perception among users in at least 30 countries in order to produce a set of best practices for user interface designers and create predictive models and other tools that will support the automated adaptation of web interfaces for different groups of users.

Through this work, Reinecke will increase access to technology and user satisfaction among people of varied backgrounds while contributing vital new knowledge in the realms of visual perception, cultural psychology, adaptive interfaces, and human-computer interaction.


Franziska Roesner: Promoting safety and security for users of augmented reality

Franziska RoesnerProfessor Franzi Roesner is co-director of the Allen School’s Security and Privacy Research Lab. She has devoted her early career to analyzing and developing solutions for security and privacy risks associated with existing and emerging technologies, considering both system design and human factors. With her CAREER Award “Towards Secure Augmented Reality Platforms,” Roesner is setting out to explore a new frontier in security, privacy, and safety for end users. Augmented reality (AR) is on the verge of widespread commercial viability for a range of applications, from entertainment to transportation, but the overlay of digitally generated audio, visual, and haptic feedback on users’ perception of the physical world could make these technologies vulnerable to malfunctioning or malicious outputs.

Roesner’s research will identify potential risks associated with AR technologies and offer a strong technical foundation to guide the industry in developing AR platforms that combine rich functionality with strong safeguards for users — ensuring that people are able to enjoy the benefits of AR while mitigating risks to their privacy and security.


Thomas Rothvoss: Designing new algorithms for intractable problems

Thomas RothvossThomas Rothvoss is a professor in the Allen School’s Theory group with a joint appointment in the UW Department of Mathematics. He received a CAREER Award for his proposal “Approximation Algorithms via SDP Hierarchies,” which aims to design new and better approximation algorithms to address several well-known, outstanding problems in combinatorial optimization, including the Directed Steiner Tree, Graph Coloring, Unique Games, and Unrelated Machine Scheduling problems. The new algorithms will be based on the Lasserre semidefinite programming hierarchy — a hierarchy that remains poorly understood outside of theoretical computer science circles. The implications of Rothvoss’ research and teaching will extend far beyond his own field.

In tackling these fundamental problems of computation, Rothvoss is also tackling the problem of how to efficiently process and extract value from vast quantities of data — one of the most pressing issues facing the scientific community and a host of other industries.


Emina Torlak: Simplifying verification and synthesis to build better software

Emina TorlakProfessor Emina Torlak focuses on the development of new programming languages and tools for software verification, synthesis, and computer-aided design as a member of the Allen School’s PLSE group. She received a CAREER Award for her project “The Next 700 Solver-Aided Languages,” which proposes a novel approach to programming that involves automating domain-specific languages (DSLs) with solver-aided tools for verification and synthesis. Such tools help developers build better software more easily, by finding critical bugs in existing code and creating new code that is bug-free and performant by construction. Typically, tools for verification and synthesis must be hand-crafted and hand-tuned by computer scientists — a laborious process requiring expertise in many fields. Torlak aims to simplify this process and enable experts and non-experts alike to quickly build, profile, and optimize solver-aided tools.

Torlak’s research will extend the benefits of solver-aided programming to facilitate the creation of new software applications in a variety of domains, from scientific research, to health care, to education.


This latest round of CAREER Awards brings the Allen School’s total to nine awards in just two years, following wins by Maya Cakmak (robotics), Su-In Lee (computational biology), and Shayan Oveis Gharan (theory) in 2016. A total of 38 current Allen School faculty have been recognized with a CAREER Award or its predecessor, the Presidential/NSF Young Investigator Award. Our performance in this competition and in the Presidential Early Career Awards (PECASE) program — in which professors Emily Fox, Shwetak Patel and Luke Zettlemoyer were recent honorees — demonstrates the strength of our rising young faculty in setting the future direction of computer science education and research.

Congratulations to Alvin, Ali, Katharina, Franzi, Thomas and Emina!

April 18, 2017

Allen School’s Tom Anderson elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Tom AndersonAllen School professor and Ph.D. alum Tom Anderson has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed learned societies focused on advancing knowledge, scholarship, and civic discourse. Anderson, who holds the Warren Francis and Wilma Kolm Bradley Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at UW, is one of only seven computer scientists elected this year out of 228 new members drawn from the biological and physical sciences, mathematics, social sciences, business, government, humanities, and the arts.

The Academy seeks out the most accomplished scholars, artists and contributors to civic life for membership. Anderson has made numerous, fundamental contributions to the field of computing in a research career that spans more than 25 years and has yielded more than 20 award papers. Anderson’s work has advanced a variety of important areas, including operating systems, distributed systems, computer networks, multiprocessors, and security. Recently, he has turned his attention to improving the performance of communication-intensive data center applications.

Anderson and his fellow 2017 inductees, including UW Chemistry professor Karen Goldberg, will be officially welcomed to the Academy at a ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts in October. They are set to join such rarefied company as Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Georgia O’Keefe — and Allen School colleagues Susan Eggers, Anna Karlin, and Ed Lazowska — as members.

This latest honor follows Anderson’s induction last year into the National Academy of Engineering — one of the highest professional honors bestowed upon an engineer — as well as an impressive string of previous awards and recognition that includes the IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers & Communication Award, the USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award, and election as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Read the Academy press release here, and view the complete list of 2017 inductees here. Read the UW News release here.

Congratulations, Tom!

April 13, 2017

New Tech Seattle – 5th Annual UW Event!

Always glad to host Red, Greene, and New Tech Seattle’s largest event of the year, at UW’s Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering! An amazing networking opportunity!

April 9, 2017

Allen School undergraduates recognized in the Husky 100

Kelsie Haakenson and Camille Birch

Kelsie Haakenson (left) and Camille Birch

Allen School undergraduates Camille Birch and Kelsie Haakenson have been selected as members of the 2017 class of the Husky 100. The Husky 100 program recognizes students from across the three UW campuses who are making the most of their Husky experience while making a difference on campus and in their communities through discovery, leadership, and a commitment to inclusivity.

Camille Birch is a senior from Woodinville, WA pursuing degrees in bioengineering and computer science. After developing an interest in neuroscience as a freshman, she joined UW Physiology & Biophysics professor Eberhard Fetz’s lab as an undergraduate researcher focused on brain-computer interfaces and functional connectivity. Birch has earned a number of awards for her work, including a Washington Research Foundation Innovation Fellowship from the UW Institute for Neuroengineering. She also was named a Levinson Emerging Scholar for her research in cross-cortical connectivity and prefrontal cortex control of brain-computer interfaces using the NeuroChip-3.

In addition to her passion for research, Birch is committed to fostering inclusivity in her chosen fields, guided by the belief that “the scientific community should be as diverse as the communities for which we do research.” After completing her bachelor’s, Birch plans to enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program in neural engineering in the hopes of using her research to advance rehabilitative medicine.

Kelsie Haakenson, also from Woodinville, is a senior double-majoring in history and computer science with a minor in French. Computer science didn’t factor into her plans when she first arrived at UW. But after working as an intern on the Newbook Digital Texts project and teaching herself the Python programming language, Haakenson decided to combine her love of the humanities and newfound interest in computer science. Since then, she applied and was accepted into the Allen School, spent a semester polishing her language skills at the Université de Nantes in France, and completed software engineering internships at Adobe and Socrata.

“Throughout my education, I have connected the dots between my studies and experiences, be it my research in history, projects in computer science, or language studies in French,” Haakenson said. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in digital history and make primary sources — like those she worked with as part of the Newbook Digital Texts project — accessible to more people through online publishing.

Read more about the Husky 100 Class of 2017 here. And check out our students in the inaugural Husky 100 Class of 2016 here.

Congratulations, Camille and Kelsie!

April 5, 2017

Allen School’s 2017 Women’s Research Day

Check out the agenda for today’s Women’s Research Day at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering! Facebook group here.

April 1, 2017

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