Friday, September 30, 2016

CS@Aalborg University: Research evaluation 2011-2015

Every five years, the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University undergoes a research evaluation. The purpose of this exercise is to provide the department with qualified and independent opinions on its "actual research topics, results, and performance, but also on strategic issues like funding, internal organization and synergies, possible new directions, collaboration with industry, internationalization, positioning IT as a key enabler in society, etc." So the overall aim is to improve the quality and impact of the research carried out within the department.

The evaluation committee for the period 2011-2015 consisted of Peter Apers (University of Twente, the Netherlands), Jan Gulliksen (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), Chris Hankin (Institute for Security Science and Technology and Imperial College, UK), Heikki Mannila (Aalto University, President of the Academy of Finland, Finland) and Torben Bach Pedersen (Aalborg University, Denmark), who was the internal member and chair of the committee.

The report resulting from the latest such evaluation has recently been released and can be found here. The editors of the report were Manfred Jaeger, Jesper Kjeldskov, Hua Lu and Brian Nielsen. As a former editor of such a report in days long gone, I know that their job required a considerable use of time and effort.

So, what did the evaluation committee have to say? Quoting from its evaluation of the department as a whole,
"The Computer Science Department has two world-class groups and excellent staff in all groups. The Danish IT benchmarking exercise of 2014 shows that the Department is the best department in Denmark for number of refereed publications and BFI points per full-time faculty member. The Department is also top in a number of other metrics. During the review it was also reported that Aalborg Computer Science graduates are highly prized by industry. The Department thus deserves to be ranked even higher in the QS World University Rankings by Subject or the Academic Ranking of World University (ARWU \Shanghai") Subject ranking. The current rankings are to a large degree caused by the poor coverage of computer science publications in the commercial bibliometric indices used in these rankings (WoS, Scopus). Here, Google Scholar provides a much better coverage. However, the Department clearly has the potential to rise considerably in these rankings but will require support from the Faculty and University to achieve this."
The two world-class groups mentioned in the above quotation are the Database and Programming Technologies and the Distributed and Embedded Systems units. (The latter is now called Distributed, Embedded and Intelligent Systems unit as it now also includes researcers from what used to be the Machine Intelligence group.) Those two groups are led by the Danish computer scientists with the highest h-index, and have a truly impressive publication and grant-winning record.

You can find the committee's evaluations for each of the research groups in the report. Here I'll limit myself to mentioning an excerpt of what the committee wrote about the Distributed and Embedded Systems unit, where I had the pleasure to work for ten years.

"The Distributed and Embedded Systems group is a world-class group. It is involved in a broad range of activities from semantic foundations through tool development for verification and validation to real-world applications. The group is making excellent contributions across the whole spectrum of activity; this is internationally recognized by prestigious awards such as:
  • The ERC Advanced Grant LASSO
  • The 2013 CAV Award for Uppaal - the first time that this award has been granted to a non-US team
  • The ranking of  "Uppaal in a Nutshell" as the 9th most influential paper in Software Engineering since 1972
  • Best paper awards, medals and other awards to Associate Professors
The h-index of Kim Guldstrand Larsen is outstanding and places him among the top echelon of researchers in this area; his h-index is higher than some Turing Award winners in cognate areas. It is also pleasing to note that some of the Associate Professors also have high h-indices for their career point. .....

The group has published well during the review period with 175 conference papers - 75% of which are in A and B venues - and 63 journals - 92% of which are in A and B venues. .....
The group has secured 37 new grants to a total value of DKK103.8M. ....

The major strength of the group is the people; not only the group leader but the strong group of more junior academic staff and an excellent group of support staff. The broad span from foundational work to applications is also unusual in such groups in other universities and is a considerable strength of DES. The profile and reach of the group is enhanced by its dissemination activities but also the engagement of senior staff in policy-related activities at national and European levels."

Of course there is still a lot of room for improvement, but this will require support from the university as a whole, high-profile new hires in the future and the development of the talent the department already boasts. However, the opinion of the evaluation committee clearly highlights the current strength of a CS department that, in my admittedly biased opinion, deserves to be better known worldwide.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Zoltán Ésik (1951-2016): In Memoriam

The following obituary for Zoltán Ésik will appear in the October issue of the Bulletin of the EATCS and on the web page of Academia Europaea.

Zoltán Ésik (1951-2016)
In Memoriam 

Luca Aceto and Anna Ingólfsdóttir
ICE-TCS, School of Computer Science, Reykjavik University

Our friend and colleague Zoltán Ésik passed away in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Wednesday, 25 May 2016. He was visiting us as he did with some  regularity, compatibly with his many engagements throughout the world. 

The day before his untimely death, Zoltán had delivered an ICE-TCS seminar entitled Equational Logic of Fixed Point Operations at Reykjavik University. At the start of his talk, he looked somewhat tired and out of breath. However, the more he was presenting a research topic that he loved and that has kept him busy for most of his research career, the more he seemed to be feeling at ease. After the talk, we spent some time making plans for mutual visits in the autumn of 2016 and we discussed some EATCS-related matters. His wife Zsuzsa and he were due to spend a few days travelling in the north of Iceland before their return to Szeged, but life had other ideas. 

Zoltán was a scientist of the highest calibre and has left behind a large body of deep and seminal work that will keep researchers in theoretical computer science busy for a long time to come. The list of refereed publications available from his web site at 
includes two books, 32 edited volumes, 135 journal papers, four book chapters, 86 conference papers and seven papers in other edited volumes. However, impressive as they undoubtedly are, these numbers give only a very partial picture of Zoltán's scientific stature. Together with the late Stephen Bloom, Zoltán was the prime mover in the monumental development of Iteration Theories. As Stephen and Zoltán wrote in the preface of their massive book on the topic, which was published in 1993 by Springer:

Iteration plays a fundamental role in the theory of computation: for
example, in the theory of automata, in formal language theory, in the
study of formal power series, in the semantics of flowchart algorithms
and programming languages, and in circular data type definitions.  It
is shown that in all structures that have been used as semantical
models, the equational properties of the fixed point operation are
captured by the axioms describing iteration theories. These structures
include ordered algebras, partial functions, relations, finitary and
infinitary regular languages, trees, synchronization trees, 2-categories,
and others.

It is truly remarkable that the equational laws satisfied by fixed point operations are essentially the same in a large number of structures used in computer science. Isolating those laws, and showing their applicability, has been one of the goals of Zoltán's scientific life and we trust that the members of our community will keep reading his work on iteration theories, which continued and went from strength to strength after Stephen and he published their 600-page research monograph in 1993. During his last talk in Reykjavik, we asked Zoltán whether he was planning to write a new edition of that book, and half-jokingly told him that it would probably be about 1,200 pages.

Zoltán's research output includes contributions to automata theory, category theory, concurrency theory, formal languages, fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic, graph theory, logic in computer science, logic programming, order theory, semiring theory and universal algebra, amongst others. The breadth of research areas to which he has contributed bears witness to his amazing mathematical powers and to his curiosity. Wherever he went and no matter how long he had travelled to get there, Zoltán's brain was always open. 

Zoltán also contributed to the research community with his service work and received several awards. Here we will limit ourselves to mentioning that he was elected member of the Academy of Europe in 2010, was named Fellow of the EATCS in 2016, was a member of the council of the EATCS from 2003 to 2015, and of the Presburger Award Committee in 2015--2016. He represented the Hungarian theoretical computer science community in the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) as member of TC1 since 2000 and was one of the prime mover in the establishment of the IFIP WG 1.8, Working Group on Concurrency. He also received the Gy. Farkas Research Award and the K. Rényi Research Award of the János Bolyai Mathematical Society.

Zoltán's appetite for work was phenomenal, but he also liked to have fun, to spend time with friends eating good food and drinking excellent wine, and to travel. Indeed, Zoltán's lust for travel was amazing. We lost track of his visits to myriads of research institutions and universities all over the world. He attended conferences in the most remote locations and always made sure that he would reserve some time for enjoying the most beautiful and known sites. At times, we had the feeling that he had been everywhere in the world.  

Despite being often on the move, Zoltán was very much a family man. He was very proud of his wife Zsuzsanna, their daughter Eszter and their son Robert. He always told us about the latest developments in their lives and was happy about his four grandchildren. We had the pleasure of enjoying Zsuzsanna and Zoltán's exquisite hospitality both in Szeged and in their summer home on Lake Balaton.

Zoltán was very loyal to his friends and would make trips to see them wherever they were living. We were lucky to be amongst them and had the pleasure of hosting him in Aalborg, Florence and Reykjavik, where he visited us a few times and where the thread of his life was cut. We will miss the time we spent doing research or relaxing together, his sense of humour, his conviviality and his hospitality. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

LICS 2017: Call for Workshop Proposals

                                        Call for Workshop Proposals
                                                  LICS 2017
                                32nd Annual ACM/IEEE Symposium
                                    on Logic in Computer Science


The thirty-second Annual ACM/IEEE Symposium on Logic In Computer Science (LICS'17) will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland on June 20–23, 2017. The workshops will take place on June 18–19, 2017. June 18 will only be used by two-days workshops (if any), or in case the number of workshops is really large. This year, workshop fees should be around 65 euros for a one-day workshop (including lunch and two coffee breaks).

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit proposals for workshops on topics relating logic – broadly construed – to computer science or related fields. Typically, LICS workshops feature a number of invited speakers and a number of contributed presentations. LICS workshops do not usually produce formal proceedings. However, in the past there have been special issues of journals based in part on certain LICS workshops.

Proposals should include:

        • -  A short scientific summary and justification of the proposed topic.
             This should include a discussion of the particular benefits of the topic to the LICS community.
        • -  A discussion of the proposed format and agenda.
        • -  The proposed duration, which is typically one day (two-day workshops can be accommodated too).
        • -  Procedures for selecting participants and papers.
        • -  Expected number of participants. This is important for the room!
        • -  Potential invited speakers.
        • -  Plans for dissemination (for example, special issues of journals).

Proposals should be sent to Patricia Bouyer:

** Important Dates **

        Submission deadline:    November 1, 2016
        Notification:                   November 15, 2016
        Program of the workshops ready: May 19, 2017
        Workshops:                      June 18–19, 2017
        LICS conference:                June 20–23, 2017

The workshops selection committee consists of the LICS General Chair, LICS Workshops Chair, LICS 2017 PC Chair and LICS 2017 Conference Chair.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

An interview with Paul Spirakis, the new EATCS president

During its annual meeting at ICALP 2016 in Rome, the Council of the EATCS elected Paul Spirakis (University of Liverpool, UK, and University of Patras, Greece) as its new president. Paul is a well-known figure in the theoretical'computer-science community and truly needs no introduction. However, I felt that it might be a good idea to interview him briefly in order to give him the opportunity to present himself to the community and to discuss some of his plans for his mandate as president of the EATCS.

I interviewed Paul Spirakis via email and present his answers to my questions in this interview that will appear in the October issue of the Bulletin of the EATCS. In order to preserve the style of Paul’s answers, I did not edit them. I hope that the readers of this blog and of the Bulletin of the EATCS will enjoy reading the text of the interview and will find it as interesting as I did.