SCS in the News

Gates delivers keynote as Qatar campus hosts ICTD 2009

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was the keynote speaker when the university's campus at Education City in Doha, Qatar, hosted the third International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development from April 17-19.

More than 350 technologists, social scientists and others attended ICTD, considered the premier multidisciplinary forum for researchers designing information and communications technologies for developing countries. The conference --- which was significantly expanded this year --- also gave the university a chance to show off its new building, which opened two months earlier.

Workshops and panel discussions focused on topics such as technology-based approaches to education, literacy and healthcare; the challenges of deploying technology in rural settings; and implications of new eServices for policy, government and non-governmental organizations.

Gates spoke April 18 to more than 800 people about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a strong focus on bringing technology to the developing world. Poverty "wastes human potential," he said. "Helping the poorest people is the most important thing we can do. Technology is a tool for achieving that goal."

Assistant Research Professor M. Bernardine Dias (CS'00,'04) served as conference chair for ICTD 2009, while Rahul Tongia (E'98), senior systems scientist in the Institute for Software Research, served as program committee co-chair.  --- Philip Lehman

Watzman, PR director since 1991, retires

Anne Watzman is one of a handful of people who can say their career spanned both coal mining and data mining.

Working out of Pittsburgh as a staff writer and freelance correspondent, Watzman spent more than two decades covering the biggest industrial stories in the nation for McGraw-Hill's magazines, including Business Week, Engineering News Record, Chemical Week and --- yes --- Coal Age.

But as Pittsburgh changed from the "Steel City" into a center for science, research and education, Watzman changed direction, too. In 1987, the Squirrel Hill native and Penn State alumna joined Carnegie Mellon as a member of the university's public relations staff. Four years later, she became director of media relations for the recently created School of Computer Science.

Then-Dean Raj Reddy put her in the "cave" --- a windowless room of cubicles in the 4600 wing of Wean Hall --- where her first assignment was to cull articles from The Wall Street Journal. "Pretty soon," says Watzman, laughing, "it got busier and busier, and Raj had to read the Wall Street Journal himself." (She got a real office, too.)

For nearly a generation, Watzman, who retired April 1, had VIP access to pioneers in artificial intelligence, computer networking, machine learning, software engineering and robotics --- and a seemingly endless supply of great stories to tell to media outlets around the world.

Still, she admits, it was sometimes a challenge to get reporters to understand that computer science is more than just robots. Pressed to recall the most important story of her tenure, Watzman rattles off a half dozen, from model checking and the DARPA Grand Challenge to Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture."

Since 2006, Byron Spice, former science editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has served as "co-director" of public relations for SCS. He now soldiers on alone as Watzman looks forward to traveling, gardening and spending more time with her four grandchildren, aged 20 months to 9 years old. "I also feel obligated to sort through the thousands of family photos that have accumulated in my house," she says.

Watzman may even write a novel. "I guess I have to wait and see if I have anything to say that's worthwhile," she says. Her record over the past 18 years suggests that's the least of Watzman's worries.  --- Jason Togyer

Yahoo! awards research grants to four doctoral students

Four computer science Ph.D. students are among 20 young researchers selected as winners of Yahoo!'s first Key Scientific Challenges program.

Honored were Pinar Donmez and Jaime Arguello of the Language Technologies Institute and Polo Chau and Yi Zhang of the Machine Learning Department. Arguello and Chau won recognition for their work in search technology, while Donmez and Zhang were cited in the category of machine learning and statistics.

Each recipient received $5,000 in unrestricted seed funding for their research, exclusive access to certain Yahoo! datasets and the opportunity to collaborate directly with the corporation's scientists.

No other university had as many winners in the program as Carnegie Mellon. "We clearly were impressed by the quality of the applicants from Carnegie Mellon and believe Pinar, Yi, Jaime and Polo each hold great potential for making significant contributions as researchers," said Ken Schmidt, Yahoo! director of academic relations.

Habermann named 'influential educator' by SIGSOFT

The late A. Nico Habermann has been honored with the inaugural Influential Educator Award from the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Software Engineering.

Habermann, founding dean of the School of Computer Science, was honored "for significant and lasting contributions to the field of software engineering as a teacher and mentor," according to the citation. His widow, Marta Habermann, accepted the award May 21 at the International Conference on Software Engineering. Two of Habermann's children, Frits and Marianne, also attended. "This is the most appropriate award Nico ever received because he was always a teacher," Marta Habermann said.

Laurie Williams, associate professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, also received the award this year.

Habermann, who died in 1993, joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 1969. He was head of the Computer Science Department from 1980 to 1988, when he became dean of the new School of Computer Science; and helped establish the Software Engineering Institute, which he served as acting director from 1984 to 1985.

Report: Gene regulators similar to cloud computing networks

Gene regulatory networks in cell nuclei are similar to cloud computing networks, reports an international research team led by Ziv Bar-Joseph, assistant professor of machine learning and computer science.

The finding --- reported June 16 issue in the online peer-reviewed journal Molecular Systems Biology --- helps explain not only the robustness of cells, but also some experimental results that have puzzled biologists.

"Similarities in the sequences of certain master genes allow them to back up each other to a degree we hadn't appreciated," said Bar-Joseph, a member of Carnegie Mellon's Ray and Stephanie Lane Center for Computational Biology. That's analogous to a cloud-computing network, which keeps working even when individual processors fail.

The research team said this explains the curious results of experiments in which biologists removed one master gene from a cell at a time, only to find out that most of the genes controlled by the master gene remained activated.

Anthony Gitter, a graduate student in the Computer Science Department, was lead author of the article. Other authors included Itamar Simon, Zehava Siegfried and Michael Klutstein of Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem, Oriol Fornes of the Municipal Institute for Medical Research in Barcelona, and Baldo Oliva of Pompeu Fabra University, also in Barcelona.

Algorithm offers 'snapshots' of complex networks

A new algorithm incorporating machine-learning techniques makes it possible to reverse-engineer complex networks and take "snapshots" of their status at different points in time.

The algorithm, called Tesla, is the first scalable, practical method for uncovering interconnections that in genetic networks sometimes exist for only a fraction of a second, according to the authors, Eric Xing, associate professor of computer science, machine learning and language technology, and Amr Ahmed, a Ph.D. student in the Language Technology Institute.

Until now, Xing says, researchers could identify only a static "average" network within a genetic system. With Tesla, they can predict the way a network looks at specific moments during its evolution. Xing and Ahmed used Tesla to model 4,028 genes at 66 different stages in the life cycle of a fruit fly. Their findings were published in June in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Once we understand the dynamics of a network, we can build models that predict how it will respond to stimuli and identify its vulnerabilities," said Xing, a member of the Ray and Stephanie Lane Center for Computational Biology. "In the context of cancer genetics, for instance, this dynamic network analysis could help us identify new targets for drug therapy."

Tesla has also been used to analyze patterns in other systems, including social networks and voting alliances in the U.S. Senate.

New faculty member joins CS department

Venkatesan Guruswami, a leading researcher in theoretical computer science whose work has provided new insights on digital communications, joined the faculty of the Computer Science Department as an associate professor on July 1.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Guruswami had been an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington since 2002.

His research has focused on error-correcting codes in digital media, enabling the more robust detection of weak signals in noisy environments. Guruswami has also explored the degree to which approximation provides answers for computationally difficult problems.

Guruswami was a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon during the past academic year.
For More Information: 
Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |