Friday, October 09, 2009

John Hopcroft Symposium

I spent most of today attending a symposium held in honor of John Hopcroft's 70th birthday. Symposium covered an incredible gamut of John's achievements as revealed through his former students and colleagues. It was a remarkable experience for the younger faculty and current students such as myself.

John has been a faculty member in the computer science department at Cornell since its early days. In many ways, he helped define the field of computer science as a separate discipline from mathematics and electrical engineering, and is best known for his seminal work on algorithms and data structures with Robert Tarjan (for which they won the Turing Award in 1986).

In addition to his early algorithmic exploits, John has also delved into a myriad of other areas such as complexity theory, scientific simulations, robotics, and now large scale data processing. It was incredibly inspiring to hear others describe John's ability to repeatedly identify important emerging areas and the subsequent boldness he displays in rapidly adjusting his own research agenda. I have personally witnessed his most recent push to develop algorithms suitable for the information age (as evidenced by his recent talks on the subject). But I hadn't realized until today just how many times he'd successfully foraged in new research directions in the past.

In all, it was a wonderful event. Many thanks to Jon and Eva for organizing it.

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