Newsletter for Fall 2009

In this issue…

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Message from the Chair

Dear alumni, students, and friends,

Boston University campus is reenergized by the arrival of our new and returning students. Add to this the arrival of three new tenure-track faculty members to our department, and the excitement is palpable.

Our Department continues its strong record in research funding, despite the economic downturn. In the past six months, CS faculty members have been awarded more than $5M in new grants alone. Nearly all of these new grants are interdisciplinary in nature, involving researchers in Computer Science, Biology, Linguistics, Biomedical Engineering, Mathematics and Statistics, and the Center of Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security (RISCS). Especially noteworthy is the nearly $3M grant awarded to Professor Margrit Betke and her team of collaborators.

We were delighted to learn last month that Professor John Byers and his coauthors were awarded with the ACM SIGCOMM “Test of Time” paper award, for their 1998 paper that reported new algorithms for reliable broadcast of content over data networks. It is gratifying to see the recognition for this landmark work, and we are proud to have faculty of John’s caliber in our department.

Another source of pride are the achievements of our students and alumni. As you will see later in this newsletter, quite a few undergraduate and graduate students have garnered recognition in the past six months. For instance, doctoral student, Sarah Zatko won a best paper prize. And two of our alumni were recently recognized for their professional achievements: Manuela Veloso was selected to receive the second BU CS Distinguished Alumna/Alumnus Award, and J Allard was awarded an honorary degree at the University Commencement. Congratulations to all.

Best wishes for a productive autumn. And please keep in touch.

Stan Sclaroff, Chair
Department of Computer Science
Boston University


Congratulations Class of 2009!

The 2009 CS Convocation ceremony was held on May 17th and featured well-received speeches by guest speaker Colin Angle and student speaker Robert Paul Solorio. Pictures from the convocation ceremonies are available at

Colin Angle (co-founder, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of iRobot Corporation) delivered a graduation speech in which he emphasized the importance of taking risks, developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and keeping up with one’s network.

Bob Solorio recounted his path to BU Computer Science through two other colleges and spoke of the particularly high quality of his BU peers. His speech served as a good reminder to the new graduates to stay in touch and support each other in the years to come.

During the convocation, a number of undergraduate students were recognized, including James Alan Kelley, who won the College Prize for Excellence in Computer Science, and Maciej Pawel Tomczyk and Robert Paul Solorio, who won the Department Academic Achievement Awards. In addition four of our graduating seniors, Colin Michael Gibbs, James Alan Kelley, Maciej Pawel Tomczyk, and Robert Paul Solorio, were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa by the Epsilon of Massachusetts Chapter at Boston University in recognition of their high level of scholarship and academic achievements.

Congratulations Class of 2009, and welcome to the BU-CAN community!

New Faculty and Faculty Transitions

This was an extraordinary year for faculty searches! Working with the College, the Department was able to make offers to the top candidate in every one of the three areas identified for faculty growth in our the Department’s Strategic Plan: Jonathan Appavoo (Systems), Evimaria Terzi (Informatics), and Sharon Goldberg (Trustworthy Computing).

Jonathan Appavoo completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Toronto in 2005. Jonathan’s research interests encompass multi-processor operating systems and “cloud computing” on large clusters of computers. In his doctoral thesis, he devised a technique called “Clustered Objects” that tackled inherent problems in the design of large-scale multi-processing computer platforms. Before joining Boston University, Jonathan was a Research Staff Member at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in New York, where he worked in the Advanced Operating Systems (OS) Group. While at IBM, Jonathan initiated Project Kittyhawk to support a global-scale computational utility. The idea attracted significant attention in the increasingly popular area of cloud computing. Jonathan’s work on Kittyhawk has been applied to the IBM Blue Gene System.

Sharon Goldberg received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at Princeton University in 2009. Sharon specializes in the use of formal techniques from cryptography and computational game theory to design and model secure protocols for data networking. The Internet, as it currently exists, makes it very difficult to know if messages are getting to their destinations, what routes they are taking to get there, and which router may be responsible for delayed or undelivered data. In her dissertation, Sharon ruled out entire classes of approaches that had been proposed for addressing this problem, mathematically proving that they will be either not secure enough or not efficient enough. Sharon’s results, which surprised many researchers, saved people from pursuing dead-end approaches. Sharon is on leave as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Microsoft’s New England Research Laboratory. She will join Boston University full-time in Fall 2010.

Evimaria Terzi earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Helsinki in 2007. Evimaria’s research focuses on algorithms for data mining and very large scale data analysis. She has developed data mining algorithms and techniques to analyze and summarize sequential datasets, to analyze and rank query results in databases, and recently to analyze graph data. For example, she has developed new algorithms for segmentation problems of large sequential data, like time series, web logs, or biological sequences (e.g., DNA). In her most recent work, she has proposed new algorithms for data mining of very large, graph-structured datasets, which can be used in the analysis of social networks and biological networks. Before joining Boston University, Evimaria was a Research Staff Member at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose.

Two faculty members have left the Department this last summer: Gene Itkis joined the staff of Lincoln Labs, in the Information Systems Technology Group, and Shanghua Teng has accepted a professorship at USC, where he will become the Chair of the Department of Computer Science. The Department wishes Gene and Shanghua the best in their new endeavors!

J Allard Receives BU Doctor of Letters Honorary Degree

J Allard (CAS 1991) received the honorary degree, Doctor of Letters at the University commencement in May. The following is the citation in the Commencement program:

“J Allard is a senior vice president at Microsoft Corporation, where he serves as chief experience officer and chief technology officer for the Entertainment and Devices Division, with responsibility for the technical architecture and user experiences related to products and services of the division. J Allard works closely with technical leaders across the company to align Entertainment and Devices Division product teams with Microsoft’s overall services strategy and product architecture, and drives the technical and design agenda to deliver connected entertainment experiences for consumers. With a personal passion for the potential of digital entertainment, Mr. Allard manages the division’s design group and also oversees an incubation team that scouts new opportunities.

Known for his ability to take a fresh look at business problems and opportunities, he managed the technical development of the Xbox game console and Zune media player. He helped shape the company’s Internet strategy, has generated more than 30 products at Microsoft, and was a founding member of the Xbox, Windows NT, and TCP/IP product families.

His technical vision, ability to push for innovation, and accomplishments are widely recognized in the industry. He has been named to lists of leaders and notable figures, including The Hollywood Reporter’s “Top 35 Entertainment Execs Under 35” and Details’ list of “The Most Powerful Men Under 38,” and he is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders program. He is a co‐founder of Project 529, a professional mountain biking team.”

Congratulations to J!

Manuela Veloso wins the 2009 BU/CS Distinguished Alumni Award

By a unanimous vote of the Faculty, Manuela Veloso (GRS MA’86) was selected as the winner of the 2009 BU/CS Distinguished Alumni Award. Manuela was one of three nominees considered by the award selection committee, which consisted of representatives from the CS faculty, students, and alumni.

In recommending her for the award, the selection committee noted the many achievements of Manuela as detailed in the following excerpt the committee’s report:

“Manuela M. Veloso is the Herbert A. Simon Professor at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. She is the president of the International RoboCup Federation and a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. Manuela Veloso’s research is on the effective construction of autonomous agents where cognition, perception, and action are combined to address planning, execution, and learning tasks. She is the recipient of a NSF CAREER award in 1995 and of the Allen Newell Medal for Excellence in Research in 1997. More recently, she was selected as a 2006/07 Radcliff Institute Fellow and was awarded the 2009 ACM/SIGART Autonomous Agents Research Award. She is the author of one book on “Planning by Analogical Reasoning” and editor of several other books. She is also an author in over 200 journal articles and conference papers. Manuela Veloso received her Licenciatura and M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the Instituto Superior Tecnico in 1980 and 1984, respectively. She attended Boston University, and received a M.A. in Computer Science in 1986. She then moved to Carnegie Mellon University and received her Ph.D. in Computer Science there in 1992.”

Manuela will be giving a CS colloquium at 2pm on Friday October 9th, after which she will be accepting her award in a special ceremony. This talk is open to the public.

Noteworthy Achievements and Awards by Faculty and Students

John Byers and his co-authors Michael Luby, Michael Mitzenmacher, and Ashutosh Rege have won the ACM SIGCOMM Test of Time Award for their publication in the Proceedings of ACM SIGCOMM 1998 of a paper entitled “A Digital Fountain Approach to Reliable Distribution of Bulk Data”. The ACM SIGCOMM Test of Time Award recognizes papers published 10 to 12 years in the past in the ACM Computer Communication Review or any ACM-SIGCOMM sponsored or co-sponsored conference that is deemed to be an outstanding paper whose contents are still a vibrant and useful contribution today. Congratulations to John for this extraordinary recognition!

Margrit Betke was notified that a pending $2.85M NSF proposal has been selected for funding. This five-year interdisciplinary research effort with co-PI’s Joyce Wong (Biomedical Engineering), Stan Sclaroff (Computer Science), and Tom Kunz (Biology) will focus on developing a systematic and comprehensive approach to reasoning about the motion of large groups of living organisms observed in video data, including research on computer vision algorithms for intelligent tracking of large groups of living individuals, development of specific systems for tracking groups of microorganisms, bats, birds, and humans, and formulation of machine learning methods for analyzing group behavior, specifically the conditions for formation and dispersal of groups, and the interactions of individuals within a group. Congratulations to Margrit for this major achievement!

Doctoral students Kyle Burke and Jorge Londono won the 2008/09 CS Research Excellence Award. Kyle Burke’s research has been on games built upon mathematical theorems that are fundamental to Economics. These games can be valuable for computer science and mathematics education. Jorge Londono’s research focuses on optimization and game-theoretic approaches for embedding multiple overlay (virtual) networks into a single shared (physical) host network. Such network embedding problems are central to emerging cloud computing and virtualization paradigms. Congratulations to Kyle and Jorge for this recognition!

Doctoral student Andrei Lapets received a BU/GRS Teaching Fellow Award in April 2009. Andrei has demonstrated the greatest skill, enthusiasm and dedication in his teaching during 2008. He has received excellent teaching evaluations and praise from both instructors and students. Also, doctoral student Sarah Zatko received the departmental Teaching Fellow Award in April 2009. Sarah has received high praise for her unique approachable teaching style that makes her very accessible and helpful to the students. Congratulations to Andrei and Sarah!

Flavio Esposito received a student travel award to present a paper at the 2008 GENI Engineering Conference in Palo Alto, CA. Sowmya Manjanatha received an NSF Student Travel Award to attend the 2008 ACM/IEEE Mobicom Conference in San Francisco, CA. Raymond Sweha received an NSF Student Award to attend WASA’09, the International Conference on Wireless Algorithms, Systems, and Applications. Sarah Zatko won the award for best student paper for her talk (with Marshall van Alstyne) on Using Markets and Spam to Combat Malware, at the 2009 MIT Spam Conference.

The Seeing-Eye Mouse helps the disabled roam online

BU Today ran a story last Spring on how the “Seeing-Eye Mouse” (developed by Margrit Betke and her collaborators and students) enables the disabled to roam cyberspace.

In that article, Margrit notes that “The community of people with severe disabilities is not really well served by computer science since many people impaired by diseases like multiple sclerosis or ALS can’t type Google searches; they can’t play video games, and they can’t click on a friend’s e-mail.” For the last eight years, Margrit and her collaborators have worked on the “camera mouse” — a computer-vision-based input device that allows the disabled to interact with a computer using facial movements and cues. The camera mouse was adapted to work with several popular programs, such as Microsoft Word, and has been used with custom software that allows computer users with disabilities to type e-mails, edit photographs, create music, and fight space aliens, among other activities. After a failed attempt to build a company around the camera mouse, Margrit and her collaborators decided to give the camera mouse away online, resulting in about 2,500 downloads every month from “as far away as Australia and Uzbekistan”!

You may read the entire article on-line at and also watch a video interview with Margrit. Check it out!

Nominations Sought for BU/CS Distinguished Alumni Award

It is now time to solicit nominations for the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award. All alumni are invited to submit nominations. Nominations will be accepted via email sent to A nomination must include current contact information for both the nominator and nominee, and a short (1-2 paragraph) justification. Self nominations are welcome.

The CS Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2008 to recognize CS alumnus or alumna who has excelled in his or her professional career. Rebecca Norlander received this award in 2008 and as mentioned earlier in this Newsletter, Manuela Veloso will be receiving this award for 2009.

For more information, check the CS Distinguished Alumni Award Web site.

Upcoming BU Discoveries Series Panel on Cyber Warfare

It seems that cyberspace is under constant attack! This summer, “denial of service” attacks shut down Twitter and also affected Facebook. On July 4, a cyber attack took down government Web sites in the South Korea and the United States, including the US Treasury Department, Secret Service, and Federal Trade Commission. The attack also targeted large commercial Web sites such as the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier in the year, the Wall Street Journal reported that cyberspies from Russia, China, and other countries had breached the U.S. electrical grid and left malware that could be used to seize control of the grid.

As the world’s infrastructure becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet for commerce and communication, the consequences of these attacks become more ominous. Worse still the perpetrators are usually invisible and difficult to trace, be they individuals or state actors. They often carry out their attacks remotely with a worldwide network of hijacked personal computers. Corporations, nonprofits, governments, and others all have a stake in the self-maintaining organism that is the Internet with no one entity has overall control. So, how do we defend ourselves and our economy? And can we do so while governing the Internet in a way that balances cyber security, privacy, civil liberties, and innovation?

As part of the BU Arts and Science Discoveries Series, the CS Department will be organizing a panel entitled “Cyber-Terrorism/Warfare — The Emergent Threat: Strategies for Survival,” which will examine and discuss issues related to the security and safety of cyberspace. Current confirmed panelists include: Dr. Robert Popp (GRS, MA’92) of NSI Inc., Professors Arthur Hulnick and Joseph Wippl of the BU IR Department, and Professors Leo Reyzin and Azer Bestavros (moderator) of the BU CS Department.

The panel is planned for November 19th at 7:00pm and will be held in the Photonics Building (PHO-206). Further details will be posted on the Discoveries Series Web Site.

Alumni Weekend 2009 is October 23-25

Mark the Date!

Last year, a record-breaking 1,700 alumni came back to campus for a weekend of BU fun with old friends. However high the numbers get, though, the party is not complete without you. So mark your calendar and make plans to join us for: Alumni College classes, Reunions with your classmates, BU-wide celebrations, and more at the all-alumni event of the year. Alumni Weekend 2009 will be October 23-25.

For more information, check the Alumni Weekend Web Site.