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Allen School’s Rajesh Rao receives Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professorship

Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, and Rajesh Rao

Left to right: Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, and Raj Rao

Allen School professor Rajesh Rao has been named the Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professor at the University of Washington. The new professorship was established by the Hwangs in the UW Department of Electrical Engineering in honor of their daughter, Karen, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in an automobile accident. The couple’s generosity will support Rao’s groundbreaking research on implantable devices to enable people suffering from paralysis to move again.

Rao is an adjunct faculty member in electrical engineering and bioengineering and directs the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, where he and his colleagues are developing bi-directional brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can wirelessly transmit brain signals across regions of the nervous system damaged through traumatic injury or illness. In addition to bridging those lost connections to enable movement, the technology also shows promise for promoting brain plasticity and targeted rehabilitation of affected areas — essentially, enabling the nervous system to repair itself.

The potential impact of this work on patients’ quality of life is what drew the Hwangs, both of whom are UW alumni, to Rao’s research.

“The selection of Professor Rao is ideal,” Mr. Hwang said in an interview. “His work lays the groundwork for research on developing a device-based rehabilitation technology to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and brain damage…We are very pleased to have him installed as the first endowed professor.”

“I am truly honored to be named the inaugural CJ and Elizabeth Hwang Professor of CSE and EE,” Rao said. “I regard the Professorship as a recognition of the great collaborative effort of the students, faculty and staff at our center over the past 6 years that has made UW a premier destination for neural engineering in the world. We are extremely grateful to the Hwang family for their generosity in accelerating the center’s efforts to build devices that will improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injury and other neurological conditions.”

Read more about the professorship in the EE announcement here, and learn more about Rao’s work on BCIs in a UW News release here.

Congratulations, Raj — and thanks to EE Chair Radha Poovendran and to CJ and Elizabeth Hwang for their support of high-impact research!

June 15, 2017

Video of Paul G. Allen School graduation ceremony

Many thanks to our friends at GeekWire for posting this video of the 2017 graduation ceremony of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering!

(The entire ceremony, from the start of the welcome to the end of the hooding, is 1:25.)

June 10, 2017

Paul G. Allen School celebrates its first graduating class

Group shot of Ph.D.s onstage

All smiles: some of the Allen School’s newly-minted Ph.D.s

Tonight marked a special milestone in the history of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, as we celebrated the first graduating class of the Paul G. Allen School and recognized the students, faculty, alumni, and friends who make the Allen School community great.

We were honored to have engineer and entrepreneur Rich Barton — founder of Expedia, co-founder and executive chairman of Zillow, and co-founder and non-executive chairman of Glassdoor — join us to help mark the occasion as our inaugural graduation speaker. Barton kicked off the celebration with some advice for the graduates in a commencement speech that drew upon Greek mythology, history, and the Wizard of Oz. Pointing to the behavioral phenomenon known as the Pygmalion Effect — after the figure in an ancient Greek myth — he urged the new graduates to set great expectations, because “Great expectations beget great results….Have a dream, gather or join a talented crew of fellow adventurers, and make it so.”

And how do they do that? By emulating the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. What those three wished for, said Barton, “are what I wish for you as you begin your journey in pursuit of your big, audacious dreams.” First, like the Scarecrow, graduates would need brains — plural, he pointed out, because in computer-science speak, “networks are much smarter, more complex, and interesting than nodes.” A diverse team accomplishes more collectively than an individual or a homogeneous team can. They would also need courage, like the Lion, and they should call upon it to “take big swings,” Barton said. “Take a chance on pursuing a big, audacious dream now.” Last — but certainly not least — is heart. He suggested that while fear may be easier than hope when it comes to inspiring others, the latter is both happier and healthier. “As you become leaders yourselves, remember to risk showing and sharing your own heart.”

Rich Barton onstage

Rich Barton advises graduates, “You have brains. Take courage. Display heart.”

GeekWire has a complete transcript of Barton’s address, plus a video.

Barton’s words set a terrific tone for the evening as we honored outstanding scholars and alumni who epitomize the Allen School’s commitment to educational excellence, service to our community, and generating real-world impact through research and innovation.

Each year, we recognize members of the graduating class who demonstrate superior scholarship, leadership potential, and the ability to apply and create new knowledge in the field of computing with Outstanding Senior Awards. In past years, we have awarded one award each to a student in computer science and in computer engineering. This year — as a reflection of how much our program has grown and the quality of our students — we decided to expand the award to two students in each discipline: Pascale Wallace Patterson and Sarah Yu in computer science, and Nick Anderson and Pooja Sethi in computer engineering.

Sethi also received the Best Senior Thesis Award, which recognizes the very best in undergraduate research at the Allen School based on originality, quality, and impact. She earned the award for her thesis “Respeak: A Voice-based, Crowd-powered, and Accessible Speech Transcription System,” which she completed working with professor Richard Anderson and Ph.D. student Aditya Vashistha. Again, we opted to break with tradition and recognize two students instead of one: Kuikui Liu also received a Best Thesis Award for “The Method of Interlacing Polynomials,” which he completed working with professors Shayan Oveis Gharan of the Allen School and Rekha Thomas of UW Mathematics.

We also recognized Royden Lucky with our Undergraduate Service Award, which is given to a graduating senior who has taken an active role in the Allen School community during his/her time as a student—contributing time, expertise, and enthusiasm to our events and activities.

The UW student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) recognized lecturer Adam Blank with its Undergraduate Teaching Award, highlighting his enthusiasm, his responsiveness, and his constant drive to improve the educational experience through innovation. Students themselves also can be powerful teachers — especially those who serve as teaching assistants (TAs). Each year we recognize and thank a small group of particularly outstanding TAs with our Bob Bandes Memorial Award. Our 2017 winners were Francis Ge, Varun Vijay Mahadevan, Alexander Tsun, Pascale Wallace Patterson, and Michelle Yun, with honorable mention going to Justin Huang and Evan McCarty.

A.J. Bernheim Brush (Ph.D. ’02); Hakim Weatherspoon (B.S. ’99)

Our new graduates are joining a long line of leaders and innovators who are using their UW education to change the world. To highlight this fact and recognize our most accomplished alumni, each year we announce two winners of our Alumni Achievement Award. This year’s honorees were A.J. Bernheim Brush (Ph.D., ’02) and Hakim Weatherspoon (B.S., ’99).

Brush is a leader in computer-supported collaborative work. After spending 11 years leading a variety of influential projects in Microsoft Research, she is now part of the Cortana product group working on far-field speech interaction, natural language processing, and user interface design for the company’s in-home digital personal assistant.

Weatherspoon combined Computer Engineering with varsity football at UW, traveling to four bowl games as a Husky. He followed his UW education with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and has spent the past nine years as a professor at Cornell University. He is internationally renowned for his work on web-scale distributed systems and has earned accolades for his commitment to promoting diversity in computing.

Read more about Brush and Weatherspoon in our newsletter article here. Check out the complete graduation program here. And see GeekWire’s video of the entire ceremony here.

Congratulations to all of our graduates, and thanks to everyone who made our first Allen School graduation such a special occasion!


Event photo credits: Matt Hagen


June 9, 2017

Allen School’s Vincent Lee and Max Willsey win Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship

Vince Lee and Max Willsey

Vincent Lee (left) and Max Willsey

Allen School Ph.D. students Vincent Lee and Max Willsey have been awarded a 2017 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship for their proposal “Program Synthesis for Domain Specific Reconfigurable Accelerators.” Lee and Willsey, who were recommended by professors Ras Bodik, Luis Ceze, and Alvin Cheung, are one of only eight teams to receive a fellowship out of 33 finalists drawn from 116 original proposals received by the company.

Lee and Willsey are working with Bodik, Ceze, and Cheung on a project that aims to leverage solver-aided techniques and program synthesis ideas to design and build domain specific reconfigurable hardware accelerators. The goal of their research, which spans computer architecture, compilers, and programming languages, is to achieve significant performance improvements while simultaneously reducing the energy costs associated with computation. The project is housed in the Allen School’s inter-disciplinary SAMPA group, which advances research across multiple layers of the system stack, including hardware, programming languages, and applications.

The Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship program is designed to recognize and support Ph.D. students and their forward-thinking research in a variety of technical areas that are driving computing innovation. This is the fifth year in a row that an Allen School team has earned one of these coveted awards and the second win for Lee, who received a fellowship in 2015 with Carlo del Mundo for their work to develop systems and architecture support for large-scale video search. Winning teams each receive a $100,000 fellowship and mentorship by Qualcomm engineers.

Congratulations, Vincent and Max!

June 9, 2017

Livestream of Allen School graduation ceremony – Friday June 9, 6:00 p.m.

The 2017 graduation ceremony of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering will be livestreamed – 6:00 p.m. on Friday June 9, beginning with an address to the graduates by Zillow Group co-founder and Executive Chairman Rich Barton. Other highlights include presentation of the 2017 Alumni Achievement Awards to A.J. Brush (Ph.D. ’02) and Hakim Weatherspoon (B.S., ’99), various other awards, the procession of Bachelors and Masters graduates, and the hooding of Bachelors graduates.

Watch at https://www.youtube.com/uwcse!



June 8, 2017

Allen School researchers shine brightly at SIGMOD

Group photo of UW Allen School at SIGMOD 2017

Allen School students and faculty at SIGMOD in Chicago

A delegation of Allen School researchers recently returned from the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Management of Data (SIGMOD 2017). Several faculty and students from the Database and Programming Languages & Software Engineering groups were recognized for their work to advance the state of the art in data management.

Ph.D. student Shumo Chu earned the Best Demo Award for his presentation of the Cosette Automated SQL Prover, a project developed by Chu, his fellow Ph.D. student Chenglong Wang, undergraduate researcher Daniel Li, and professors Alvin Cheung and Dan Suciu. Cosette is the first automated prover for determining the equivalence of two SQL queries. The team has demonstrated its usefulness by proving a number of real-world SQL rewrite rules ​that have not been shown correct before, along with disproving well-known bugs ​in SQL query optimizers, ​all in a matter of seconds. The team ​will  release the tool in the next few weeks.

Shumo Chu demonstrating Cosette

Two other students received Honorable Mentions for their demos. Brandon Haynes earned accolades for demonstrating VisualCloud, a database management system for efficient storage and delivery of virtual reality content at scale that he developed with 5th year master’s student Artem Minyaylov and professors Cheung, Magdalena Balazinska, and Luis Ceze. Maaz Bin Safeer Ahmad was recognized for his demo of Casper, a tool he developed with Cheung that automatically rewrites sequential Java applications to leverage parallel data processing frameworks such as Spark and Hadoop using verified lifting.

In the ACM Student Research Competition, Ph.D. student Jennifer Ortiz was named First Runner-Up in the graduate student category for her poster and research talk on PerfEnforce, a dynamic scaling engine for analytics with performance guarantees. Ortiz developed PerfEnforce in collaboration with Balazinska, master’s alum Brendan Lee, Microsoft Technical Fellow Johannes Gehrke, and Senior Data Science Fellow Joseph Hellerstein of the UW eScience Institute.

A team of Allen School researchers also earned one of three Reproducibility Awards, which recognize papers from the previous year’s conference that are deemed to be most reproducible, verifiable, flexible, and portable. The winning paper, “SQLShare: Results from a Multi-Year SQL-as-a-Service Experiment,” presented the results of a four-year deployment of a database-as-a-service platform aimed at scientists with minimal database experience and was co-authored by Ph.D. students Shrainik Jain and Dominik Moritz, Ph.D. alum Daniel Halperin, iSchool professor and Allen School adjunct faculty member Bill Howe, and Allen School professor Ed Lazowska.

ACM Student Research Competition honorees

Professor Alvin Cheung (left) with ACM Student Research Competition honorees Utku Sriin, Jennifer Ortiz, and Lingjiao Chen

Last but certainly not least, Balazinska collected SIGMOD’s Test of Time Award for her 2005 paper “Fault Tolerance in the Borealis Distributes Stream Processing System,” which pioneered a new approach for increasing the fault tolerance of stream processing applications. The award, which Balazinska shares with co-authors Hari Balakrishnan, Samuel Madden, and Michael Stonebraker of MIT, signals the enduring influence her work has had on the field of data management in the dozen years since its initial publication. Read more in our previous blog post here.

View more photos of the Allen School in action at SIGMOD here.

Great work, everyone!

June 7, 2017

Emily Fox recognized by Seattle chapter of Association for Women in Science

This evening, Amazon Professor of Machine Learning Emily Fox was recognized by the Seattle chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) with their 2017 Award for Scientific Achievement in STEM.

AWIS writes: “Emily is an expert in machine learning and a leading researcher in redefining the scope and nature of applied statistics. She is a leader in developing computationally realistic modeling tools for complex data sets. In addition to teaching and advising at the University of Washington, she co-created an online course about machine learning. She was recently recognized by President Obama with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Emily fosters the development of other women in science through her visible success and being approachable and available as a mentor and counselor.”

Congratulations Emily!

June 6, 2017

Allen School researchers earn Best Robotic Vision Paper at ICRA 2017

Tanner Schmidt talks to ICRA attendees

Tanner Schmidt (left) speaks to attendees at ICRA

A team of researchers in the Allen School’s Robotics and State Estimation Lab earned the award for Best Robotic Vision Paper at the recent IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2017). The winning paper, “Self-supervised Visual Descriptor Learning for Dense Correspondence,” represents a significant step forward in robot learning by providing a framework for enabling robots to understand their local environments without human intervention.

In order for robots to operate safely and effectively in dynamic environments, they must be able to recognize objects and scenes they have encountered on previous occasions and apply that knowledge to their current situation. The process by which robots develop this human-like perception of their environment is known as correspondence estimation, which typically requires image descriptors that have been engineered by hand or the expensive collection of vast quantities of training data to take advantage of deep learning techniques.

The team from the RSE-Lab — Allen School Ph.D. student Tanner Schmidt, former postdoc and current affiliate professor Richard Newcombe of Oculus, and professor Dieter Fox — came up with an alternative that automates the generation of training data and enable robots to learn the visual features of a scene in a self-supervised way. Leveraging dense mapping techniques such as KinectFusion and DynamicFusion, the researchers were able to generate correspondence labels from raw RGB-D video data. The researchers then used the resulting labels and a contrastive loss to train a fully convolutional network to produce dense visual descriptors from novel images that are consistent despite variations in pose, viewpoint, or lighting conditions. This work, which represents the state of the art in descriptor learning, will be useful for researchers tackling a number of important problems in robot vision, including tracking, mapping, and object recognition.

Another Allen School paper, “SE3-Nets: Learning Rigid Body Motion using Deep Neural Networks” by Ph.D. student Arunkumar Byravan and Fox, was a finalist for the same award. That paper describes SE3-Nets, which are deep neural networks for modeling and predicting the motion of objects subject to applied force. Byravan and Fox demonstrated that SE3-Nets are able to learn scene dynamics from limited real-world data, generalize across different scenes, and more consistently predict object motion compared to traditional flow networks.

As Fox points out, vision is becoming an increasingly important area of robotics — and our showing at ICRA demonstrates that we are at the forefront of this exciting line of research. Way to go, team!

June 6, 2017

Honoring Richard Ladner

Richard Ladner and some of his students who joined the dinner in his honor. Back row: Sangyun Hahn, Kevin Zatloukal, Albert Greenberg, Richard Ladner, Shiri Azenkot, Catherine Baker, Danielle Bragg, Jeff Bigham, Soma Chaudhuri. Middle row: Lauren Milne, Anna Cavender, Cynthia Bennett. Front row: Anne Condon, Shaun Kane, Jessica Tran.

Richard Ladner joined the Computer Science Group at the University of Washington in 1971 – 45 years ago this past fall.

Richard was first a leader in theoretical computer science and then a leader in accessibility. He has supervised or co-supervised 27 Ph.D. students with 4 more in the pipeline. He has also supervised the research of more than 100 undergraduate students, 23 of whom won Mary Gates Research Scholarships, and 2 who won CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards. He served as Chair of the ACM Special Interest Group in Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) from 2005-2009. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet University from 2007-2016. He is a recipient of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) and the 2008 A. Nico Habermann Award. He is the winner of the 2014 SIGCHI Social Impact Award and 2016 SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. He is an ACM Fellow and an IEEE Fellow. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1986 and Fulbright Scholar in 1993. At the University of Washington he received the Boeing Professorship in Computer Science & Engineering (2004-2012), the Undergraduate Research Mentor Award (2010), the Samuel E. Kelly Distinguished Faculty Lecture Award (2010), and the University of Washington Outstanding Service Award (2009).

On Friday we celebrated his career on the occasion of his retirement, first with a valedictory lecture, and then with a dinner in his honor.

Richard’s former students are establishing the Richard Ladner Endowed Graduate Fellowship in his honor: “to support students studying accessible technology in the Allen School, the Information School or the College of Engineering, or students with disabilities in those schools and colleges whose research focus is a field within computer science.” If you would like to support the Ladner Fellowship, you can find information here.

A profile of Richard, excerpted from the Summer 2017 issue of CSE’s newsletter Most Significant Bits, is here.

The slides from Richard’s valedictory lecture, “My 45+ Years at UW,” are available in pptx and pdf. The talk announcement (with a link to the video) is here.

June 3, 2017

Allen School’s Shyam Gollakota is GeekWire’s “Geek of the Week”

“Shyam Gollakota envisions a future in which his research and technological breakthroughs will transform computing as we know it. It’s a powerful prediction, and it’s based on the consumption of less power.

“Gollakota, a co-founder of Jeeva Wireless and an assistant professor in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, is a leader in the field of wireless networking. He was named one of MIT Technology Review’s innovators under 35 in 2014; part of the Popular Science “Brilliant 10” in 2016; and was among the Forbes “30 under 30” in 2015 and 2017.

“While those all sound pretty fancy, we’re here to name him GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.”

Shyam joins previous Allen School “Geeks of the Week” Irene Zhang, Karan Goel, Carlos Guestrin, Julie Kientz, Melissa Winstanley, Lauren Bricker, Yaw Anokwa, Wendy Chisholm, and Marty Stepp, as well as 2012 “Geek of the Year” Oren Etzioni and 2017 “Geek of the Year” Ed Lazowska.

We got geek! Read more here.

June 3, 2017

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