Friday, December 23, 2016

Mariangiola Dezani-Ciancaglini: 70, but still going strong

Mariangiola Dezani-Ciancaglini, one of the most influential Italian (theoretical) computer scientists, turned 70 yesterday. As witnessed by her DBLP entry, Mariangiola is still very active in research and is a prime example of a scientist who continues to challenge herself, to produce excellent work and to mentor young researchers at an age at which many are retired.

The purpose of this post is to celebrate Mariangiola's 70 birthday, hoping that some of the readers of this blog who are not familiar with her work will be tempted to read it and to spread it amongst their students.

Mariangiola Dezani has been one of the leading researchers in the foundations of programming languages and, in particular, of their type systems for about 40 years. She has offered seminal contributions to that field, introducing new type systems that deeply influenced theoretical developments and its practical applications.

In addition to her outstanding research activities, she has been a mentor and role model for young researchers, many of whom now have leading positions at high-class universities. Moreover, she has tirelessly supported female students and researchers in computer science at all stages of their career. She has turned the Department of Computer Science at the University of Turin, Italy, into a hotbed of research on the theory of programming languages. The group led by Simona Ronchi Della Rocca and her is one of the largest research teams in that field in the world, and is one of those with largest percentage of female researchers and students.

Mariangiola's research activity over the years has followed a path in which theoretical developments have been inspired by the evolution of programming languages: from lambda-calculus models in the 1980s, providing foundations for functional programming languages, to object orientation in the 1990s, to dynamic and distributed contexts with behavioural types for web services and session types since the year 2000.

Mariangiola's main scientific achievement in the first phase of her research career was the introduction of intersection type assignment systems, which were largely used as finitary descriptions of models of the lambda-calculus. Intersection types are one example of a theoretical concept developed by Mariangiola Dezani that has later had profound influence on the practice of programming languages. Indeed, their use in the typing discipline for a language has allowed compilers to generate more efficient code for different instantiations. In object-oriented languages, intersection types are employed, amongst other things, in expressing mixins (constructs that permit code reuse avoiding the ambiguities of multiple inheritance). They have also been advocated and are used for manipulating XML and semi-structured data in languages such as CDuce.

Since the year 2000, Mariangiola's research has been mainly devoted to the study of self-adapting types for ensuring safety and liveness of communication protocols also in presence of unexpected events. This work has offered seminal contributions to the study of session types and has led to practical applications whose impact will be felt for years to come. Mariangiola first proposed a formalisation of Java with session types, which was later applied to the design and implementation of SJ (Session Java). These contributions initiated a flurry of research activity aiming at applying session types to many real-world programming languages. She also first studied a theory of progress in the session types for the pi-calculus, whose core theory was later extended to multi-party session types. This formalism became the core of the current version of an open-source protocol description language, Scribble, which is developed at Red Hat and Imperial. This language is used in the multi-million-USD Ocean Observatory Initiative project, whose purpose is to build an infrastructure of sensors and other computing devices located on the ocean floor so that oceanographers to get data about the health of the marine ecosystem. This is an example of the effectiveness and practical impact of the deep and elegant theoretical work carried out by Mariangiola Dezani.

A belated happy 70th birthday, Mariangiola!

1 comment:

Existential Type said...

Hear, hear! Congratulations to one of the founding heroes of the field!