SCS in the News

CS theorist Karp receives Dickson Prize

One of the leading theorists in computer science is this year's winner of Carnegie Mellon's Dickson Prize in Science. At a ceremony March 25 at the McConomy Auditorium, the university honored Richard M. Karp of the University of California at Berkeley. A lecture by Karp entitled "The Mysteries of Algorithms" followed.

A past winner of the A.M. Turing Award, Karp is a University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Berkeley and a research scientist at the International Computer Science Institute. His most recent research uses computational biology to understand how genes and living cells work.

Karp is renowned for his contributions to the Theory of NP-Completeness, a cornerstone of modern theoretical computer science that revolutionized algorithm design and paved the way for the integration of computing into scientific research.

The $50,000 Dickson Prize in Science is one of Carnegie Mellon's most prestigious honors. Created by the wills of Pittsburgh physician Joseph Z. Dickson and his wife, Agnes Fisher Dickson, it annually honors the American scientist judged to have made the most progress in their field during the previous year.

The first Dickson Prize in Science was awarded in 1970. Through the same bequest, the University of Pittsburgh each year awards the Dickson Prize in Medicine.

Synthetic Interview brings Darwin back to life

Charles Darwin is celebrating his 200th birthday this year by sharing his stories, discoveries and opinions with visitors to Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center.

With the help of the Synthetic Interview Technology developed by Scott Stevens and Michael Christel, senior systems scientists at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, the British naturalist who died in 1882 is again answering questions and holding conversations about a wide range of topics--including his theories of evolution and natural selection.

Synthetic Interviews allow viewers to interact a database of video clips by asking questions, rather than watching a rigidly formatted film. "Ask Darwin," which debuted Feb. 5, is a collaboration between the ETC and biologists from Duquesne University that draws on 15 hours of video recordings of Darwin's "ghost," portrayed by actor Randy Kovitz (A'77). Researchers selected questions from more than 1,000 surveys completed by area residents. Darwin's answers are pulled directly from his own writings.

 "Ask Darwin" will likely spread to other museums and be adapted to the Web for classroom use, said John Pollock, associate professor of biological sciences at Duquesne. Funding came from the National Institutes of Health. Project leaders for the ETC include Shirley Saldamarco, supervising producer; Ralph Vituccio, director of media/special projects; and John Dessler, a digital artist and lecturer.

Kiesler receives SIGCHI's highest honor

Sara Kiesler has been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction. Kiesler will receive a $5,000 honorarium at SIGCHI's April meeting.

A member of Carnegie Mellon's faculty since 1979, Kiesler was named the university's Hillman Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction in 2004. Her work includes research into the ways that groups of people form and interact over the Internet. Kiesler has studied such phenomena as "flame wars," distributed collaboration, information sharing and social equalization.

In 1998, Kiesler and Robert Kraut, Herbert A. Simon Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, reported that increased home access to email and the Web made users feel lonelier and less connected to their families. Their paper, Internet Paradox, received international media attention.

HCII doctoral student nets Smiley Award

A web application called "Graffiter" that allows Twitter users to collect personal information and display it as a graph or chart is the winner of the 2009 Smiley Award.

Its creator, Ian Li, a doctoral student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, received the $500 first prize Feb. 20. Sponsored by Yahoo! Inc., the prize recognizes communication innovations developed by Carnegie Mellon students. It's named for the ubiquitous smiley "emoticon" invented 26 years ago by Scott Fahlman, research professor of computer science.

Graffiter employs the "hash" tags built into Twitter to collect user-defined data about things such as hobbies, diets and exercise programs. "If there is something about your life that you're curious about, start recording it and study your graphs," Li said.

Fahlman, who presented Li with his award and a crystal trophy, called Grafitter "a viral application likely to spread quickly" through the Twitter community and "very much in the spirit" of the smiley emoticon.

New Disney fellowship named for Pausch

The Walt Disney Co. has created a fellowship in memory of the late Randy Pausch (CS'88), professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design and one of the founders of the Entertainment Technology Center. Robert Iger, Disney president and chief executive officer, made the announcement Feb. 4 at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.

The Disney Memorial Pausch Fellowship will support two graduate students--one each in the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts--who are studying the interaction of art and technology.

Pausch, who died July 25, 2008 from pancreatic cancer, worked as a Walt Disney Imagineer in 1995 and later served as a consultant. He became an international celebrity after the "Last Lecture" he delivered at Carnegie Mellon in September 2007 was viewed online by hundreds of thousands of people and turned into a bestselling book.

Disney also unveiled a plaque honoring Pausch. Located next to the Mad Tea Party ride at Walt Disney World, it features a quote from the "Last Lecture": "Be good at something; it makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome."

Degree trains Pittsburgh-area robotics technicians

Carnegie Mellon is leading a regional consortium in development of a new associate degree in robotics engineering technology. The two-year program will train technicians to build and maintain robots and other embedded computer systems, said Robin Shoop, director of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Corridor and head of the Robotics Academy, an educational outreach effort inside the Robotics Institute.

Courses will be offered this fall at three Pittsburgh-area colleges, and credits will be transferrable to four-year programs in electrical, computer and manufacturing engineering. Graduates will be qualified to work as managers or technologists in a variety of technology-intensive industries, Shoop said.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies, the Robotics Corridor is dedicated to creating the infrastructure necessary to support the robotics industry in the Pittsburgh region.

--Compiled from staff reports
For More Information: 
Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |